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New coronavirus variant may be more deadly — but more evidence is needed, U.K.’s chief scientist says

There is some evidence that a new coronavirus variant first identified in southeast England carries a higher risk of death than the original strain, the British government’s chief scientific adviser said Friday — though he stressed that the data is uncertain.

Patrick Vallance told a news conference that “there is evidence that there is an increased risk for those who have the new variant.”

He said that for a man in his 60s with the original version of the virus, “the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die.”

“With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die,” he said.

But Vallance stressed that “the evidence is not yet strong” and more research is needed.

WATCH | Boris Johnson discusses coronavirus variant:

While saying the variant of the coronavirus first detected in the U.K. may be associated with a higher degree of mortality, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it’s also putting additional pressure on the nation’s health-care system. 1:42

The findings come from a paper released on Friday by the U.K. government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) on the variant known as B117.

The team acknowledged there are “important limitations to the data,” which was based on a relatively small sample size of 2,583 deaths among 1.2 million tested individuals, with 384 deaths likely tied to infections of the variant.

“It should be noted that the absolute risk of death per infection remains low,” the NERVTAG team wrote in the paper.

The researchers also did not find evidence of increased mortality tied to the variant for hospitalized individuals specifically.

The variant has spread to several countries around the world — including Canada, where chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Friday there have been 31 confirmed cases. Tam said there have also been three confirmed cases of the variant first found in South Africa.

In Ontario, local public health officials are concerned by the presence of an unidentified variant among an outbreak at the Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home in Barrie — where more than 90 per cent of residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Dominik Mertz, who is based out of McMaster University in Hamilton, agreed the paper is just a first step and requires more confirmation.

“To my knowledge, this is the first study that suggests a higher mortality with the B117 variant, while previous data suggested no difference,” he said, noting the study’s limited sample size. 

“Hence, we remain uncertain whether B117 results in more severe infections.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician in Toronto and a member of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, agreed the uncertainty makes it difficult to draw conclusions on the increased deadliness of the variant.

“Other preliminary data did not demonstrate that this was the case,” he added. “Regardless, it’s best to be cautious and ensure we take steps to limit the transmission of this in Canada.”

In contrast to that uncertainty, Vallance said, there is growing confidence that the variant is more easily passed on than the original coronavirus strain. He said it appears to be between 30 and 70 per cent more transmissible.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19, said studies were underway to look at the transmission and severity of new virus variants.

She said so far “they haven’t seen an increase in severity” but that more transmission could lead to “an overburdened health care system” and thus more deaths.

British officials say they are confident that the vaccines that have been authorized for use against COVID-19 will be effective against the new strain identified in the country.

But Vallance said scientists are concerned that variants identified in Brazil and South Africa could be more resistant to vaccines, adding that more research needs to be done.

WATCH | An inside look at the U.K.’s mass vaccination program:

CBC News gains access to a unique inoculation site in the U.K., where vulnerable groups are being prioritized. 1:51

Concerns about newly identified variants have triggered a spate of new travel restrictions around the world. Many countries have closed their borders to travelers from the U.K., which itself has halted flights from Brazil and South Africa.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there could be further restrictions.

“We may need to go further to protect our borders,” he said.

Similarly, Bill Blair, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, said Friday that the variants are a concern and one of the reasons the government requires all international travellers to be swabbed within 72 hours of departure to Canada. 

Blair said further options to discourage people from making unnecessary trips include:

  • More restrictions on international travel.
  • Additional quarantine measures.
  • Greater enforcement.

“A loophole frankly does exist because the Americans previously had not placed any restriction on international flights coming into the U.S.,” Blair said. “We’ll be working with the Americans on developing new reciprocal measures that can further protect Canadians.*

The U.K. has recorded 95,981 deaths among people who tested positive for the coronavirus, the highest confirmed total in Europe.

The country is currently in a lockdown in an attempt to slow the latest surge of the coronavirus outbreak. Pubs, restaurants, entertainment venues and many shops are closed, and people are required to stay largely at home.

The number of new infections has begun to fall, but deaths remain agonizingly high, averaging more than 1,000 a day, and the number of hospitalized patients is 80 per cent higher than at the first peak of the pandemic in the spring.

Johnson, who has often been accused of giving overly optimistic predictions about relaxing coronavirus restrictions, sounded gloomy.

“We will have to live with coronavirus in one way or another for a long while to come,” he said, adding that “it’s an open question” when measures could be eased.

“At this stage you’ve got to be very, very cautious indeed,” he said.

Vallance agreed. “I don’t think this virus is going anywhere,” he said. “It’s going to be around, probably, forever.”

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CBC | Health News

Quebec pins all its hopes on the vaccine, but experts say action is needed on multiple fronts

The old saying holds that only fools and the dead never change their minds.

Health Minister Christian Dubé is neither of those things. Eighteen days ago, at a news conference about Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, Dubé insisted his hands were tied by Pfizer’s requirements that second doses of the two-dose protocol be held back to observe the prescribed 21-day interval between shots.

A course correction followed a few days later and this week, he announced second doses would be delayed up to 90 days.

“This is the best strategy,” he said, citing the urgency of the situation.

On Dec. 29, Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda sat next to Dubé at a news conference and alluded to the possibility that Pfizer could reduce its supply to Quebec if the province didn’t follow the recommendations, a prospect since echoed by federal officials.

Dubé this week: “We’re not asking permission.”

The reversal was sudden, it also represents an unusually aggressive move by a government whose response to the pandemic has been typified by cautious decision-making.

Going it largely alone on delaying doses for months suggests, above all else, that the Legault government is pushing its entire stack of chips onto the square marked “vaccines.”

The decision is based on the advice of experts from the province’s vaccine committee, the Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec, which studied clinical evidence. And it runs counter to guidelines from Pfizer and the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube arrives at a COVID-19 press briefing Thursday, January 14, 2021 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

A high-stakes gamble

The contrast with other major decisions made since the turn of the year is informative. 

In the same week Dubé announced his department was going full bore on vaccination, it also announced an easing of restrictions on rapid testing.

And, last week, the province highlighted the portion of an expert panel’s report on air purifiers and filters in schools that confirmed the devices won’t interrupt the main causes of disease transmission — mainly, proximity of students — rather than the part indicating they help lower the number of viral particles in the air.

Police forces across Quebec handed out 750 tickets during the first weekend of the province’s four-week overnight curfew. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Take, as well, the provincial curfew that went into effect a week ago, which in effect relaxes a series of previously existing measures and does little to tackle what provincial statistics indicate are a key venue for transmission: workplaces, particularly in the construction and manufacturing sector.

The rationale has been that shutting down those industries on a large scale could imperil supply of essential goods.

It’s true there are few easy policy choices in the middle of a raging pandemic.

Why the unusual forcefulness and speedy action on vaccines, then? Perhaps because there is no discernible Plan B.

Still more that could be done

Many experts believe the new restrictions that went into place last Saturday won’t be enough — and argue more needs to be done in a number of areas including testing and contact tracing, stronger measures in schools and in the many workplaces that remain open.

The headline grabber of early 2021 is the curfew that requires people to stay home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Non-essential retailers, as well as non-essential offices, restaurants, bars and gyms, were ordered to remain closed, while manufacturing and construction sectors — both major sources of new outbreaks — were allowed to stay open, unhindered.

“If the manufacturing industry is accounting for ongoing community transmission, which I suspect that it is, then there needs to be more control to ensure public [health] measures there,” said Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist at the McGill University Health Centre who is also a science advisor for the federal COVID-19 therapeutics task force.

Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet issued a statement Friday suggesting they may finally crack down. In a follow-up interview with Radio-Canada, he said inspectors will be “vigilant.”

“We won’t hesitate when there are violations of the health guidelines to hand out fines,” he said, though they have only handed out 21 at construction sites in the past week.

Schools, too, have been allowed to reopen. While the benefits of keeping them open are clear, Vinh said the government could still do more to get a handle on transmission, including a clearer stance on ventilation.

“If internally within schools there could be stricter public health measures, I think that would be helpful,” he said. 

Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet says certain construction sites can reopen on April 20, but strict sanitary protocols must be followed. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Premier François Legault has defended the measures by saying the curfew is a way to seize the public’s attention and to limit exposure to older people while they await the vaccine.  

He has pointed out, repeatedly, that 80 per cent of those hospitalized are over the age of 65.

But, it remains unclear whether the curfew, and the other measures in place, will be effective on that front.

Testing, testing

Then there’s the question of interrupting the contagion in the community.

As Eastern Townships Public Health Director Dr. Alain Poirier said this week, the virus “is everywhere.” Quebec has been reluctant to more widely employ rapid tests as a way to better understand exactly where the virus is spreading.

On Thursday, after 200 Quebec scientists published an open letter calling on the province to make more use of rapid tests, Dubé retreated from comments on Monday that the tests were unnecessary. 

Based on a report from a panel of internal experts issued that same day, Quebec will start using rapid tests to bolster its regular testing capacity on a limited basis, in highly specific circumstances.

Is the change of heart enough? Not in the view of Dr. David Juncker, a testing expert who is chair of biomedical engineering at McGill University and a scientific adviser to Rapid Test and Trace Canada, which advocates for a large-scale implementation of the technology.

“It’s a step in the right direction … but it’s a little bit too little, too late,” Juncker told CBC’s Quebec AM. “That’s the real risk, that we’re trapped in cycles of too little, too late here.”

Photo: Radio-Canada\ Ivanoh Demers Images pour illustrer le déconfinement économique. Photo prise dans Lanaudière, Québec, Canada. Sur la photo: (Gauche à droite) Le Costco À Terrebonne est toujours aussi populaire…. File attente, Le 28 Avril, 2020 2020/04/28 (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

He likened the government’s approach to rapid testing — which it plainly views as unreliable and a major drain on human resources — to the discussion surrounding face masks in early 2020.

Provincial public health officials initially opposed masks, before realizing they could be a key tool in preventing the spread of the virus. 

The National Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel, which issued its first report Friday, suggests rapid antigen tests could be exactly another useful tool, given the ability to test frequently and obtain instant results. 

In a technical briefing this week, officials with Quebec’s Health Ministry defended their approach to rapid tests, saying the current testing regime is perfectly adequate, and that, in any event, they don’t have enough people to deploy them at scale.

What’s frustrating to experts like the signatories of the open letter is there doesn’t appear to be a plan to develop that capacity any time soon.

‘We need to kickstart now’

Frontline doctors remain concerned about the coming weeks, with intensive care wards in Montreal at risk of being overwhelmed.

As COVID-19 cases surge in Ontario and Quebec, hospitals in both provinces are preparing in case they can’t treat everyone and laying out the criteria for determining who gets prioritized for critical care. 1:47

Even if hospitals are able to hang on until Feb. 8, when the measures are set to lift, the province isn’t expected to begin vaccinating older people outside care until the middle of the month.

Vinh said Quebec’s situation is rendered “tricky” by the fact vaccine procurement and supply are out of its control.

The announcement from Pfizer on Friday that it would temporarily reduce shipments of its vaccine to Canada due to issues with its supply chain underscored the risks involved in the Legault government’s plan.

The pharmaceutical giant is pausing some production lines at its facility in Puurs, Belgium, in order to expand long-term manufacturing capacity.

The move means Quebec will receive 8,775 doses instead of the 46,800 originally scheduled for the week of Jan. 25, and 39,000 of the 82,875 doses expected the following week.

The disruption is far from catastrophic, given the doses will be replaced in later deliveries and Quebec is also receiving tens of thousands of vaccines from Moderna. But it will have an impact. 

That was the week the province was supposed to begin vaccinating in private retirement homes.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Dubé said the supply chain hiccup merely reinforces Quebec’s decision.

“The strategy remains the same: we need to kickstart now and vaccinate as many vulnerable people and health-care workers as possible, as quickly as possible,” reads the statement.

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CBC | Health News

Sign of the times in plane business as Amazon buys 11 no longer needed jets from WestJet and Delta

Amazon is buying four jets from WestJet and seven from Delta as the e-commerce giant moves to beef up its delivery fleet at a time when passenger jets are no longer so in demand.

In a release, the company said the 11 jets, which are all Boeing 767-300s, are all currently set up to carry passengers but are in the process of being converted to carry only cargo. The WestJet jets will join Amazon’s fleet some time this year and the Delta ones in 2022.

“Our goal is to continue delivering for customers across the U.S. in the way that they expect from Amazon, and purchasing our own aircraft is a natural next step toward that goal,” Sarah Rhoads, vice-president of Amazon Global Air, said in a release.

The 767 was a key jet for WestJet in its evolution as it was the airline’s only wide-body jet, but the airline has recently decommissioned its entire fleet of them and moved to larger 787 Dreamliners for many long-haul flights.

“Last year our 767s were removed from service as we gauged market interest for the procurement of the 767 fleet,” spokesperson Morgan Bell told CBC News in a statement. “We are pleased they found a home with Amazon.”

The four jets represents WestJet’s entire fleet of 767s.

Amazon building delivery network

Amazon launched its own air cargo fleet in 2016 and, prior to Tuesday’s news, the company leased 80 planes, but the move is the first time the company has bought their own.

The company uses parcel services such as UPS and FedEx for its current deliveries, but is moving to build its own delivery network as it increasingly views itself as a competitor to those services, not a partner.

Amazon owns tens of thousands of its own delivery trucks, and has been experimenting with its own fleet of autonomous delivery drones. But those are for the last leg of the delivery journey — it still relies on planes to get packages across vast distances, quickly.

Tuesday’s news is the first purchase of jets, but also the second time in the pandemic that the company has added to its number of planes.

In June of 2020, the company leased a dozen 767s from Air Transport Services Group, Inc.

Financial terms of the sale were not disclosed. 

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CBC | World News

BioNTech says its vaccine likely works on COVID-19 variant in U.K., but more study needed

The latest:

The chief executive of BioNTech says the German pharmaceutical company is confident that its coronavirus vaccine works against the U.K. variant, but further studies are needed to be completely sure.

Ugur Sahin said Tuesday that “we don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” but because the proteins on the variant are 99 per cent the same as the prevailing strains, BioNTech has “scientific confidence” in the vaccine.

Sahin said BioNTech is conducting further studies and hopes to have certainty within the coming weeks. BioNTech’s vaccine, developed together with U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer, is authorized for use in more than 45 countries.

As of early Tuesday, more than 77.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 43.7 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a database maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.

What’s happening in Canada

The latest:

As of 11:15 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at  519,699, with 77,993 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,381.

Quebec reported 2,183 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 28 deaths. Hospitalizations increased to 1,055 in the hard-hit province, with 137 people in intensive care units.

Ontario, which has seen COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations rise, on Monday announced a sweeping shutdown is set to begin across the province on Dec. 26. 

“We need to do everything in our power to protect our hospitals and our most vulnerable,” Premier Doug Ford said as he made the announcement Monday. But the Ontario Hospital Association said in a statement that it was “surprised and disappointed” the lockdown won’t happen for another five days.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott on Tuesday reported 2,202 cases of COVID-19 and said more than 45,300 tests were completed. Hospitalizations also increased, according to the province, rising to 1,005 with 273 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. Figures published by a Toronto critical care doctor and attributed to Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) put the ICU figure at 285. 

The figures reported by the province daily can vary from the CCSO reports due to differences in how the numbers are compiled.

WATCH | Ontario reveals details of provincewide COVID-19 lockdown:

Ontario has announced the details of a strict provincewide lockdown starting one minute past midnight on Boxing Day, as well as a late return to class for elementary students. The province’s latest modelling shows that existing restrictions haven’t been enough to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 2:55

In British Columbia, health officials on Monday reported 41 additional deaths over a period of three days and 1,667 new cases. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that while case numbers seem to be levelling, they are still too high.

“We have to remember that people getting sick today were in contact with others days ago, and as much as two weeks ago.”

What’s happening in the U.S.

Congress passed a $ 900-billion US pandemic relief package that would finally deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Lawmakers tacked on a $ 1.4 trillion catchall spending bill and thousands of pages of other end-of-session business in a massive bundle of bipartisan legislation as Capitol Hill prepared to close the books on the year. The bill approved Monday night went to President Donald Trump for his signature, which was expected in the coming days.

The relief package, unveiled Monday afternoon, sped through the House and Senate in a matter of hours. The Senate cleared the massive package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved the COVID-19 package by another lopsided vote, 359-53. The tallies were a bipartisan coda to months of partisanship and politicking as lawmakers wrangled over the relief question, a logjam that broke after president-elect Joe Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with top Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked.

The bill combines coronavirus-fighting funds with financial relief for individuals and businesses. It would establish a temporary $ 300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $ 600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theatres, as well as money for schools, health-care providers and renters facing eviction.

EMS departments from throughout Westchester County, N.Y., convoyed on Monday to the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center to cheer up young patients and health workers. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The 5,593-page legislation — by far the longest bill ever — came together Sunday after months of battling, posturing and post-election negotiating that reined in a number of Democratic demands as the end of the congressional session approached.

Biden was eager for a deal to deliver long-awaited help to suffering people and a boost to the economy, even though it was less than half the size that Democrats wanted in the fall.

The U.S. has seen more than 18 million COVID-19 cases and more than 319,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

California alone has recorded a half-million coronavirus cases in the last two weeks, overwhelming emergency rooms in urban centres and rural areas, including along the Mexican border, where a small hospital system warns it is fast running out of patient beds.

The state could be facing a once-unthinkable caseload of nearly 100,000 hospitalizations within a month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

What’s happening around the world

In the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan has reported a locally transmitted case of COVID-19 — the first in 253 days.

The country’s Central Epidemic Command Center said on Tuesday that the patient is a 30-year old female. She was found to be a close contact of a foreign pilot who was previously confirmed as having contracted the coronavirus.

Health officials are in touch with 167 contacts of both individuals, and have asked 13 of them to quarantine at home. An official said the pilot, who did not mention the woman as a close contact, may be found in violation of Taiwan’s epidemic prevention laws and could be fined.

Taiwan has largely shielded itself during the pandemic, recording just seven deaths and 770 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

A medical staff member wearing protective gear takes a swab from a visitor to test for COVID-19 at a temporary testing station outside Seoul railway station in South Korea on Tuesday. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korea will prohibit private social gatherings of five or more people and shut down ski resorts and major tourist spots nationwide starting on Christmas Eve as it contends with a surge in coronavirus infections.

The restrictions announced Tuesday extend to a national level similar rules set earlier by authorities in the Seoul metropolitan area. It is the most serious step the government has taken to reinstate social distancing after months of easing.

India recorded 19,556 new cases of the coronavirus, according to health ministry data on Tuesday, its lowest daily increase since July 3.

In Europe, Ireland’s prime minister said coronavirus restrictions will be tightened in the country amid concerns that the new variant of the virus identified in southeast England has spread across the Irish Sea.

In an address to the country, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the government was acting “quickly and aggressively” in response to rising infection rates and that it was proceeding on the assumption that the new variant, which is said to be more virulent than existing strains, was already in Ireland.

He said that in the last week, the country had seen “extraordinary growth in the spread of the virus.” Figures, he said, suggest the virus is growing by around 10 per cent a day.

Among the new restrictions to be imposed over the coming days and to last until Jan. 12, Martin said restaurants and pubs selling food will have to close at 3 p.m. on Dec. 24. So-called “wet pubs” — those that don’t sell food — are already closed. Shops and schools can stay open, he said.

Germany has expanded its ban on passenger flights from the U.K. to forbid passenger transport by rail, bus and ship. Health Minister Jens Spahn said the measure took effect at midnight, a day after flights were halted. A similar measure applies to South Africa, where a new variant of the coronavirus also has been detected.

Tessa Boulton, left, takes a swab test from triathlete Michael Kruse, dressed as Santa Claus, at a testing centre at the Helios Clinic in Schwerin, Germany on Monday. Kruse traditionally hands out Christmas presents at the clinic’s children’s ward at Christmas and therefore has to be tested in advance. (Jens Buettner/dpa/The Associated Press)

The measures apply through Jan. 6. There are exceptions for freight and mail transport, and for medical and humanitarian flights. A string of European and other countries halted air travel from Britain because of a new and seemingly more contagious strain of the coronavirus in England.

A leading German virologist who was initially skeptical about reports that the strain was much more contagious voiced concern after seeing more data. Christian Drosten, a professor of virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, tweeted that “unfortunately it doesn’t look good.” But Drosten added that the mutation has so far increased only in areas where there was a high or rising rate of infection, meaning that reducing contacts works against its spread.

In Africa, Sudan will ban travellers from Britain, the Netherlands and South Africa from Dec. 23.

In the Middle East, Oman said on Monday it’s temporarily suspending all entry to the country by foreigners and halting international passenger flights over worries about a fast-spreading new strain of the coronavirus.

Oman said the one-week closure of all official ports of entry would begin on Tuesday “to protect community members from the severity of infection and the speed of spread.”

In the Americas, Brazil tailed only the U.S. in total coronavirus cases, with more than 7.2 million cases reported and more than 187,000 deaths. Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said it had certified the production standards of CoronaVac, China’s Sinovac-produced coronavirus vaccine candidate.

Guatemala and Panama will restrict entry to travellers who have recently visited Britain or South Africa.

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CBC | Health News

Absence of World’s Fastest Man will deprive Tokyo Olympics of sorely needed star power

This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

If you’ve never seen Christian Coleman run in person I feel sorry for you as a sports fan, because the man is an absolute wonder. I watched from the bleachers as he zoomed away from a world-class field in the early rounds of the men’s 60 metres at the IAAF World Indoor Championships, and sat near the finish line as he won the final in 6.37 incredible seconds.

That time was the second best ever, trailing only the 6.34 Coleman ran at U.S. nationals that year. Those numbers quantify what you see when you watch Coleman blast from the starting blocks and rocket down the track.

He’s faster than 5G wifi. Faster than money running through your chequing account.

He’s faster than any sprinter in the post-Usain Bolt era, and that’s not just my opinion. It’s a point of statistical fact. Last September he won a 100-metre word title in 9.76 seconds, the fastest time in the world since 2015.

WATCH | Christian Coleman runs 9.76 at 2019 World Championships:

Christian Coleman of the United States wins 100m with personal best 9.76 seconds, Andre De Grasse finishes 3rd while fellow Canadian Aaron Brown places 8th. 8:37

Coleman is so fast that the sport’s drug testers can’t keep up with him, and that’s the problem.

This month the Athletics Integrity Unit, which oversees doping control for World Athletics, suspended Coleman for two years after a string of missed out-of-competition drug tests. The ruling means the top performer in track and field’s highest-profile event will miss the Olympics — if they actually happen next summer in Tokyo. Unless Coleman’s last-ditch appeal succeeds, somebody besides the current World’s Fastest Man will win Olympic gold in 2021, and his suspension will leave a long list of losers.

Stench of a doping control violation

First is Coleman’s career, even though he has never tested positive, and even though the AIU’s report specifies that officials don’t suspect him of using performance-enhancing drugs. The stench of a doping control violation will still sour his reputation, and the two-year gap on his resume could prove costly for a sprinter at his level, where appearance fees grow with each Olympic and world championship medal, and where gold in Tokyo could have earned him untold endorsement cash.

But four whereabouts violations in a 12-month span hint that Coleman either doesn’t understand, or simply doesn’t care about the importance of routine paperwork.

In that sense the World’s Fastest Man is like many of us, too busy keeping pace with daily life to sign every paper and respond to every email. I’ve been paying accountants to prepare my taxes since before I could afford it, because even student loan-poor Morgan had less time than money. So if the time drain and tedium of constantly updating his location, just to facilitate unannounced drug tests, simply overwhelmed Coleman, I get it. I empathize. I’ve been there. The world’s fastest human is still human.

But those doping control location forms are just like tax returns, in that failing to keep them up to date will cost you in the long run. If I keep CRA waiting long enough, I’ll earn an audit. If you don’t answer the door when drug testers knock, as happened with Coleman in December, or if you’re in Iowa on a day you said you’d be in Kentucky, as happened last spring, you’re courting warnings and, eventually, suspensions.

And if you’re Coleman, your absence will deprive the sport of your sorely needed star power.

De Grasse the new favourite?

In theory, a Coleman-free Tokyo Olympics elevates Markham’s Andre De Grasse to an early favourite. De Grasse, after all, won bronze at 2019 worlds, finishing behind Coleman and Justin Gatlin, who will be 39 years old next summer.

But it’s still too early to handicap a competition that’s nine months away. In 2016, hardly anyone outside Coleman’s inner circle and a handful of absolute track and field soothsayers, could have said with certainty that he would outrun Usain Bolt in the 2017 World Championship final. And as De Grasse wrapped up the 2014 season, few observers would have known that by the following summer he would shave nearly a quarter second off his 100-metre personal best, and transform from junior college sprint standout to world championship medallist.

The point here is that new contenders emerge every year, and don’t usually warn the mainstream sports world before they do it.

WATCH | The ascension of Christian Coleman, Andre De Grasse:

Despite following similar paths in their careers, Canada’s Andre De Grasse and American Christian Coleman have yet to race each other professionally in the 100 metres.. CBC Sports’ Anson Henry sets up the much-anticipated 100-metre showdown at the upcoming track and field worlds. 1:38

Still, sidelining the most recent world champion in the most-watched event of the summer Olympics hurts both the games and the sport of track and field. Coleman might not have Bolt’s effusive, yet easy-going, made-for-mainstream audiences personality, but he’s American, and that matters.

Among everyday sports fans and media in the U.S., understanding of track and field is about as broad and deep as an ashtray, which explains why several times a year football writers try to explain why NFL players are faster than Olympic sprinters. This month it’s D.K. Metcalf, the Seattle Seahawks receiver who made highlight reels with his coast-to-coast chase-down of Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker last Sunday night. Metcalf’s wearable tech measured his top speed at 22.64 m.p.h., or 10.1 metres per second if you’re fluent in sprinting.

That stat prompted one writer to calculate that Metcalf’s speed, if sustained, converts to 9.88 seconds over 100 metres, except that conclusion assumes Metcalf’s peak speed is also his average — which is impossible. A peak, by definition, isn’t sustained. That’s why it’s a peak. A true 9.88 sprinter likely maxes out north of 11.5 metres per second. Track aficionados understand that distinction, but people raised on U.S. football, and hand-timed 40-yard dashes as the gold standard of speed, often don’t.

Enter Coleman, who went viral in 2016 when he ran a 40 under NFL Combine conditions and clocked 4.12 seconds, a full tenth of a second faster than the best time ever recorded at the combine. That figure might mean little in the track and field world, but it translates Coleman’s speed into a language U.S. sports fans recognize. And so it positioned him as a bridge between a sport that gains mainstream attention for two weeks every Olympic summer, and the massive North American fan base that could make the whole enterprise more lucrative.

Instead, Coleman has a suspension he’ll have to appeal to the Court for Arbitration in Sport, hoping a win will put him on the start line next season. If he loses he’ll have to watch the Tokyo 100 metre final, probably on television or from a safe social distance, one more way the World’s Fastest Man is just like the rest of us.

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Pandemic accelerating in Africa, test kits needed, WHO says

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating in Africa, spreading to rural areas after international travellers brought it to capital cities, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

But the WHO said there was no indication that large numbers of severe cases and deaths were being missed, or that the virus has caused significant infections in refugee camps across the continent.

Ten countries are driving Africa’s epidemic, accounting for 75 per cent of the some 207,600 cases on the continent, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa regional director. About 5,000 deaths have been reported.

South Africa, which last month began a phased easing of its coronavirus-related lockdown, is the hardest-hit, accounting for a quarter of all cases, she said.

“Even though these cases in Africa account for less than three per cent of the global total, it’s clear that the pandemic is accelerating,” Moeti told a news briefing for Geneva-based UN correspondents.

“We believe that large numbers of severe cases and deaths are not being missed in Africa.”

Africa’s population is relatively young and many countries had already established “point of entry” screening measures against Ebola fever — two factors which may have so far limited the impact of COVID-19, she said.

But lockdowns and market closures to contain coronavirus contagion have hit poor families hard, Moeti said.

Truck drivers enter a queue on June 1 to be tested for the coronavirus on the Kenya side of the Namanga border crossing with Tanzania. Africa’s long-haul truckers carry food, fuel and other essential supplies along dangerous roads, but now they say they are increasingly accused of carrying the coronavirus as well. The drivers say they are stigmatized and even threatened in some countries. (Brian Inganga/The Associated Press)

In South Africa, high numbers of daily cases and deaths are being reported in two provinces, the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, she said, noting: “Specifically in the Western Cape where we are seeing a majority of cases and deaths, the trend seems to be similar to what was happening in Europe and in the U.S.”

Shortages of test kits remain a challenge on the continent, Moeti said, and until there is an effective vaccine, Africa is likely to see a steady increase with hot spots requiring strong public health and physical distancing measures.

It is unclear why the disease spread more slowly in Africa at first, she said, but several factors could be at play — lower numbers of international travellers arriving to spread the virus, quick reactions by African leaders, demographics and the weather.

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Boris Johnson says U.K. ready to open door to Hong Kong citizens if needed

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the United Kingdom stands ready to open the door to almost three million Hong Kong citizens, as the city’s leader arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for meetings on a planned national security law that has many worried about their future.

Johnson said in a column published online by the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, that the security law would curtail freedoms in Hong Kong and conflict with China’s obligations under its agreement with the United Kingdom when it took back the former British colony in 1997.

“Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life — which China pledged to uphold — is under threat,” he wrote. “If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away.”

China shocked many of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people when it announced earlier this month that it will enact a national security law for the city, which was promised a high level of autonomy outside of foreign and defence affairs.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reiterated China’s stance that the agreement with the U.K., known as the Sino-British Joint Declaration, was essentially null and void.

“The U.K. has had no sovereignty, governance or supervision over Hong Kong since its return (to Chinese rule),” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

“Therefore, the British side has no right to cite the Sino-British Joint Declaration to make irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong affairs and interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Zhao said.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for meetings with central government officials about the planned law, which she supports. China could enact the law later this month or at the end of August, analysts have said.

2.5 million eligible to apply for BNO passport

About 350,000 Hong Kong citizens hold British National Overseas passports, a legacy of the colonial era, and 2.5 million others are eligible to apply for them, Johnson said in his column. Long lines have formed at DHL courier offices in the city since the announcement as people rush to apply for or renew their BNO passports.

Johnson, echoing earlier statements by cabinet ministers, said that if China imposes a national security law, Britain would allow holders of the BNO passports to remain for 12 months on a renewable basis and would grant them the right to work, placing them on a possible path to U.K. citizenship.

People queue up outside the DHL Express store in Hong Kong on Monday. Throngs of people lined up at courier outlets across the city, many to send documents to the U.K. to apply for or renew what is known as a British National (Overseas) passport. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

“This would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history,” Johnson wrote, adding, “I hope it will not come to this.”

BNO passport holders currently can stay in the U.K. for only up to six months.

Separately on Wednesday, Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong called on leaders in Europe to oppose the national security law, saying it erodes the “one country, two systems” framework promised to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Wong said that after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose sanctions on Hong Kong last week, the momentum should be kept to build a “global alliance to stand with Hong Kong.”

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, holding a placard, speaks to media to urge European leaders against the national security law for Hong Kong outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Wednesday. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

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National strategy needed to address grieving process ‘distorted’ by pandemic, coalition says

Tasha Jory, 37, struggles with what she calls “suspended grief” over her father’s death. 

Dale Hunter, who lived on a southwestern Manitoba farm near Belmont, died suddenly at home from a heart attack on April 20.

He was 60 years old.

Jory, who has lived in British Columbia for the past 12 years, got the news over the phone from her dad’s sister, a nurse in Brandon, Man.

“I keep having this running track in my head of memories, or just constantly thinking about him. Replaying that phone call back in my head when my aunt told me he was gone. So many sleepless nights in the beginning,” said Jory.

She spoke with her sister in Grand Prairie, Alta., trying to figure out how they would hold a funeral during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which large gatherings have been restricted.

They also knew they couldn’t travel back home to Belmont, even though that is what they desperately wanted.

We are social beings who crave social contact, human contact. These are being blocked during the pandemic and there will be fallout.– Paul Adams, Canadian Grief Alliance

Jory’s grandmother is self-isolating in her condo, and her grandfather, who is in a Brandon personal care home, can’t have visitors.

“A family member was unable to tell my grandfather his son died until my aunt, the nurse, was able to see him before a medical procedure,” said Jory.

“My grandparents couldn’t even be together to grieve. We couldn’t be with either of them…. We just felt helpless.” 

They considered holding a very small service for five people, or even gathering on Zoom. In the end that didn’t feel right. Her grandparents don’t have computers.

“There is a reason why we have funerals. I find it hard to get any type of closure,” said Jory. 

No ritual of funeral

She knows other families across the country are having a similar experience. 

“This is new ground we really don’t know how to tread,” said Jory.

Dr. Harvey Chochinov says her story illustrates what he calls “distorted” dying and grief caused by the pandemic — and he’s part of a new organization that says Canada needs a national strategy to deal with that grief.

Chochinov is a distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba. He is also the co-founder of the Canadian Virtual Hospice — an online resource on issues related to death, dying and bereavement that connects with more than 2.5 million people every year.

Winnipeg psychiatrist Harvey Chochinov is the co-founder of the Canadian Virtual Hospice — an online resource on issues related to death, dying and bereavement. (CBC)

“As a result of the physical distancing and public health restrictions upon visiting and holding funerals, the process of dying is being distorted. As a psychiatrist, what we are seeing and what we anticipate is that the process of grieving is also distorted,” said Chochinov.

He says not only has COVID-19 affected patients who have been infected with the illness and died, but the pandemic has also affected the process of dying for tens of thousands of people who are facing death from other causes.

Alliance born out of COVID

In response, the Winnipeg-based Canadian Virtual Hospice formed the Canadian Grief Alliance, gathering 36 leaders in grieving and bereavement from across the country. The group includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and researchers.

In a proposal released earlier this month, the coalition asks the federal government to invest $ 100 million over the next three years for a national pandemic-related grief strategy — including specialized supports for front-line health-care workers and first responders suffering grief-related trauma.

Paul Adams is the spokesperson for the alliance. He says having a support network of family and friends around you is critical in moving through grief leading up to a funeral and in the days after. 

But now, people finding out about the death of their loved one when they can’t be physically present, he notes. They may be alone in an empty home when they get the news.

“We are social beings who crave social contact, human contact. These are being blocked during the pandemic and there will be fallout,” said Adams.

Jory is experiencing that first-hand.

“I found it more difficult to grieve, and kind of be able to get the emotions out that I know need to come out. I am struggling to fully grieve without being able to see my sister,” she said.

“It’s bizarre.… It’s a weird feeling.”

Grief ‘hangover’ coming

Chochinov says there is a price to pay emotionally and psychologically for not being able to be at the bedside of a dying loved one.

That leaves mourners unable to follow what he calls “the path of least regret.” They don’t know if their loved one died in pain, for example, or if someone wearing a latex glove held their loved one’s hand when they took their last breath.

“Those are the things that we feel need to be done for the people we love. None of that is available,” because of COVID-19, said Chochinov.

There are other layers of grief too, says Adams, such as health-care workers leaving the bedside of a deceased person, having to isolate from their own families at home and being expected to “suck it up” on the job.

“There is a limit to how much those on the front lines can hold in terms of grief, and I think there is going to be a hangover,” he said.

Grief manifested 

In addition to a national grief strategy, the Canadian Grief Alliance is also calling for a public awareness campaign focusing on coping strategies such as the Canadian Virtual Hospice’s MyGrief — an online resource that aims to help people work through the grieving process — and KidsGrief, which offers resources for parents helping a child dealing with death.

The group is also calling for $ 10 million dollars for research. Chochinov says because we are in unprecedented times in terms of grief and mourning, research needs to be done to determine the best way to address it in the wake of COVID-19.

Both Adams and Chochinov say if grief support isn’t available, the consequences could be devastating.

“Grief may be more protracted,” Chochinov said.

“It may be grief that becomes complex, meaning that some people may become depressed.”

That might manifest as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse or even thoughts of suicide, Chochinov said.

“There is a kind of train that starts moving if grief isn’t dealt with. It can turn into a mental health issue and down the road affect someone’s physical health,” said Adams.

In a written statement, Health Canada has confirmed it has received the Canadian Grief Alliance’s proposal.

It says the government’s recently rolled out $ 25-million Wellness Together Canada Portal — which provides online access to a range of mental health and substance abuse supports — can be used to help people work through their grief of losing a loved one.

Adams, though, says the federal government’s latest funding for mental health does not include money for grief support services.

“Mental health services do not see grief as their mandate,” he said.

Channelling grief

Tasha Jory says she suspects there are many others who need support in dealing with their grief.

“I am constantly replaying what has happened in my head. Missing my dad, who was so well known and loved in the community,” as well as a lifelong baseball fan and player, who was inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

Tasha Jory says her dad, a lifelong baseball player and fan, ‘was so well known and loved in the community.’ (Submitted by Tasha Jory)

Dale Hunter was cremated a week after his death. Jory and her family are waiting for the go-ahead to hold a memorial when everyone can meet at his farm to celebrate his life.

In the meantime, she has found a way to channel her grief.

“I sat down and wrote a letter to my sister. She did the same. We both wrote letters, which was super therapeutic. And then we shared our letters together.

“We kind of found our own way of working around the pandemic.”

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U.K. PM Boris Johnson in intensive care, needed oxygen after COVID-19 symptoms worsened

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fighting worsening coronavirus symptoms in an intensive care unit on Tuesday, leaving his foreign minister to lead the government’s response to the accelerating outbreak.

Johnson’s personal battle with the virus has shaken the British government just as the United Kingdom enters what scientists say is likely to be one of the most deadly weeks of the pandemic, which has killed 70,000 people worldwide.

Johnson, 55, was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital across the River Thames from the House of Commons late on Sunday after suffering persistent coronavirus symptoms, including a high temperature and a cough, for more than 10 days.

His condition rapidly deteriorated over the next 24 hours, and he was moved to an intensive care unit, where the most serious cases are treated. Although he had received oxygen, his office said he was still conscious and was moved to intensive care in case he needed to be put on a ventilator.

“The prime minister is in intensive care, being looked after by his medical team, receiving the very, very best care from the team at St Thomas’ and our hopes and prayers are with him and with his family,” Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on Tuesday.

“We all hope that he can be restored to health as quickly as possible and that’s all we’re thinking about at the moment,” Gove said.

Police officers stand outside St Thomas’ Hospital in central London as Johnson was moved to intensive care after his coronavirus symptoms worsened on Monday. (Victoria Jones/PA via The Associated Press)

While Britain has no formal succession plan should a prime minister become incapacitated, Johnson had asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputize for him “where necessary,” Downing Street said.

Just hours earlier, Johnson had said that he was in good spirits and Raab had told a news conference that the prime minister was still running the government, although Raab also said he hadn’t spoken to the prime minister directly since Saturday.

Business will continue

Johnson’s move to intensive care added to the sense of upheaval that the coronavirus crisis has wrought after its spread caused widespread panic, sowed chaos through financial markets and prompted the virtual shutdown of the global economy.

“The government’s business will continue,” a sombre Raab told reporters, saying Johnson was in the safe hands of a brilliant medical team.

“The focus of the government will continue to be on making sure that the prime minister’s direction, all the plans for making sure that we can defeat coronavirus and can pull the country through this challenge, will be taken forward.”

Raab, 46, takes the helm at a pivotal time: The official death toll in the United Kingdom currently stands at 5,373, and last week the health minister said the deadliest peak for deaths was projected to be Easter Sunday, April 12.

The United Kingdom is in a state of virtual lockdown, a situation due to be reviewed early next week, and some ministers have suggested it might need to be extended because some people were flouting the strict rules.

There have also been calls for ministers to detail what the exit plans were from the shutdown, which has hammered the world’s fifth-biggest economy after the government ordered restaurants, bars, and nearly all shops to close and told people to stay at home to curb the spread of the virus.

‘Extremely sick’

Johnson tested positive for the virus on March 26, the first leader of a major power to announce that he had been infected.

After 10 days of isolation in an apartment at Downing Street, he was admitted to hospital. He was last seen in a video message posted on Twitter on Friday when he looked weary.

Downing Street said repeatedly on Monday that Johnson remained in charge and was reading documents, but the move to intensive care revealed the gravity of his condition.

“There is no doubt this turn of events means Boris Johnson is extremely sick,” said Derek Hill, a professor of medical imaging at University College London (UCL).

Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth had been kept informed by Downing Street and U.S. President Donald Trump said all Americans were praying for his recovery.

“He’s been really something very special — strong, resolute, doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up,” Trump told a news briefing, adding he had asked two pharmaceutical firms developing potential COVID-19 therapies to get in touch with the British government to offer their services.

“We’ve contacted all of Boris’ doctors and we’ll see what is going to take place,” he said. “But they are ready to go.”

Johnson, who is not a smoker, said recently that he wanted to lose weight. He plays tennis and while mayor of London used to cycle around the capital. Johnson’s pregnant 32-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, also had symptoms but said on Saturday she was feeling better.

The face of the 2016 Brexit campaign, Johnson won a resounding election victory in December before leading the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan. 31.

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Strict rules needed in Canada to curb laser hair removal injuries, dermatologist says

A dermatologist who treats at least two clients a week with injuries from laser hair removal says it’s “frustrating” to see clients suffering due to a lack of regulation in the Canadian beauty industry.

Toronto dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett says she sees “tons” of patients with the type of burns and scars recently experienced by a B.C. woman who underwent laser hair removal. 

This week, B.C. health minister Adrian Dix said the government is in no hurry to regulate laser hair removal.

But Kellett, a member of the Canadian Dermatology Association, says laser treatments are dangerous when performed by anyone who lacks the proper training and experience, and she believes the government needs to take this more seriously. 

“I’m hoping that the government will step in and say this can no longer happen,” Kellett said.

“They have an opportunity to prevent people from getting hurt and they should they should take advantage of that and do something about it.”

Furthermore, the risk of permanent injury means anyone considering laser hair removal should only have it done by a trained physician, dermatologist or plastic surgeon who can do a proper assessment and discuss the risks and side effects, she said. 

‘We saw a phenomenal increase in the risks’

Until 2003, anyone practising beauty services like hair styling, esthetics or nail art in B.C. had to pass an exam to be certified under the Cosmetologists Act, ensuring service providers had a minimum level of training.

That act was repealed in 2003, leaving the industry unregulated.

Last week, Dix said there were “clearly concerns” about the industry, but the B.C. government was not considering new regulations.

“It would obviously be a significant thing to choose to re-regulate the industry now,” said the health minister.

“It’s something that we can look at in the future but not something that we have [before us] right now.”

Across Canada, procedures like laser hair removal are largely unregulated, and can be performed by almost anyone with as little as one hour of training, Kellett said.

Laser hair removal has existed for 20 years but has exploded in popularity over the last decade, she said. Initially, it was primarily done in physician’s offices by dermatologists and plastic surgeons, Kellett added. 

The technology has improved over the years with better systems to cool the surface of the skin during the procedure, but there is still no minimum standard of training required to use the laser on clients.

“Health Canada has allowed these devices to be basically anywhere,” Kellett said.

“They could be in someone’s basement, they could be in a hair salon, they could be in a spa, so once that happened, and we saw a phenomenal increase in the risks and also the burns, pigment change, scarring, infections.”

Toronto dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett says she sees “tons” of patients with the type of burns and scars like these, recently experienced by a B.C. woman who underwent laser hair removal.  (Submitted by Danielle Nadeau)

The problems due to a lack of mandatory training will continue until governments impose more regulation, according to industry professionals in British Columbia.

Dariush Honardoust, an instructor with the B.C. Academy of Medical Aesthetics and Skincare, ​​​​​has been calling on the government for years to set and maintain minimum standards. The academy offers multi-day training courses in laser hair removal.

“This is how it’s supposed to be [for] any other areas of practice,” said Honardoust, citing regulations around chiropractors, acupuncturists and dental hygienists.

“I don’t see that laser technicians and medical estheticians are exceptions because they are dealing with tissue, sometimes biological fluids of the patients and skin … and that’s something that needs to be regulated.”

9 claims of injury reported to Health Canada since 2015

Health Canada has received nine claims of injury related to laser hair removal between 2015 and 2019. Of those, six claims involved burns, two involved burns and blisters, and one involved scarring.

However, it is often not possible to determine whether an adverse reaction is a result of “using a specific health product,” a Health Canada spokesman said in an email.

The prevalence of injuries caused by laser hair removal in B.C. is difficult to determine.

Vancouver Coastal Health and Consumer Protection B.C. say they do not have data on injuries like burns that are specifically related to laser hair removal. 

Because the industry in unregulated, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. also does not have data on the prevalence of injuries suffered.

If Kellett’s practice is any indication, injuries from laser hair removal are “very, very” underreported, she said. 

The government needs to intervene in the unregulated industry before it becomes more of a public health risk, she said.

The first step should be to make it mandatory that lasers be used only in a medical centre under the direct supervision of a physician, Kellett said. 

“We need to protect the patient,” she said. “We are trying very, very hard to try to get this better regulated.”

“I don’t know what it’s going to take.”

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