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Quebec City, Lévis, Gatineau head back into lockdown as COVID-19 variants spread

Quebec Premier François Legault says Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau will be essentially shut down for 10 days starting Thursday at 8 p.m. ET to curb the “exponential” rise of COVID-19 cases in these three cities.

Schools will be closed, and students will move to full-time online learning in those three cities.

Gyms, theatres, hairdressers and other non-essential businesses are also shutting down in the three cities, Legault said on Wednesday. Religious gatherings will be limited to 25 people, and there will also be an 8 p.m.– 5 a.m. curfew until at least April 12.

“The situation is critical. It is deteriorating in these three cities,” Legault said. “People have to remain at home unless they absolutely have to go to work.”

With Easter weekend on the way, Legault stressed the importance of staying home and not gathering because COVID-19 variants are on the rise throughout Quebec.

More than half of the cases of COVID-19 recorded in the province will be linked to variants by the beginning of April, according to modelling by Quebec’s public health institute. Public health officials have confirmed that a third wave is underway, and those who are unvaccinated in the 40 to 60 age range are at particularly high risk.

The variant first detected in the United Kingdom is the most prevalent in Quebec. Of the more than 7,400 cases linked to variants in the province, Montreal has the highest concentration, with about 3,000 so far. Quebec City is nearing 1,000 variant infections, and Outaouais is nearing 500.

“The alarm is sounding,” Legault said. “We cannot make any exceptions.”

Hospitalizations have not spiked in these three areas, he added, but they may soon.

“We must act quickly,” Legault said. “Everywhere in Quebec, we have to be more careful.”

Though schools will be closed, daycare services will be made available to those who work in essential services. Parents are expected to keep kids home if they can, and only use these services if they are leaving home to work.

WATCH | Legault explains the new lockdown measures:

Quebec Premier François Legault announced a return to strict restrictions for several cities in the province including Gatineau, which will close non-essential businesses and schools and return to an 8 p.m. curfew. 1:14

Legault is also announcing that four regions are moving from orange to red, in accordance with the province’s colour-coded alert system.

The Outaouais, Chaudière-Appalaches, Lower Saint-Lawrence and the Quebec City region will return to red zones.

Legault said it is time to crack down now and adjust as needed as more data is gathered. Montreal is not affected by the increased restrictions, but that may change as the situation evolves, he said.

Cities see spike in cases

Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau have been orange zones for more than two weeks, allowing restaurants to welcome diners and gyms to open. But bars remained closed, and indoor gatherings were still prohibited, with guests allowed only under specific circumstances.

With restrictions loosened, cases jumped. In the Quebec City area, 194 more cases were recorded on Wednesday, for a total of 990 active cases there.

“When we go from 50 to 200 cases per day, we are going to have an impact on hospitalizations,” Legault said.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said there may be 250 cases reported Thursday and that’s why the government can no longer wait. If hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients, other medical services will have to be delayed, he said.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said the variants are spreading fast, and it is likely because people are ignoring public health rules.

“We have to intervene,” he said.

Travel to 3 cities only for essentials

Arruda said travel to Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau will not be restricted, but it is “highly recommended” that people avoid these zones because there is such a high rate of transmission. People should only go there for essential reasons, he said.

Earlier in the day, Quebec City’s public health director, Dr. André Dontigny, voiced his concern about the rise in cases and said the current measures weren’t sufficient. A local gym linked to nearly 70 infections was shut down. 

The gym’s management sent out a notice to patrons late last week encouraging anybody who attended the facility since March 14 to get tested as they may have contracted what is suspected to be a COVID-19 variant.

Dubé said the rate at which the disease spread at the gym shows just how extremely contagious COVID-19 variants are when people gather indoors. He said this outbreak should serve as a reminder to those thinking about ignoring public health restrictions and gathering over the holiday weekend or in the weeks to come.

In the Ottawa-Gatineau region, the number of active cases surpassed 2,000 over the weekend as the situation in Ontario worsened.

Legault scaled back public health restrictions in all but the Montreal region on March 8.

Since then, the curfew has been eased — from 8 to 9:30 p.m. — in the Montreal area, gyms were allowed to open and a few other rules were relaxed in the metropolitan area.

Specialist says restrictions should be tightened

Dr. Fatima Kakkar, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist in Montreal, said tightening the restrictions in some of the harder-hit areas in Quebec is going to send an important message to the residents there — showing them that they need to avoid gathering indoors and close contact with others so as to prevent transmission.

“One of the things that has to be clear is that we are not out of the woods, and we are back in dangerous territory,” Kakkar said.

She suspects a false sense of security is spreading through the population as spring approaches, but, she said, people are forgetting that the pandemic is still very real.

Students enter the Pierre Laporte Secondary School in Montreal Monday as all high school grades return to classes full time. Montreal is unaffected by the new lockdown, but in Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau schools will move to full-time remote learning. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Kakkar supports sending high school students back to school full time and says it is crucial because kids need social interaction for their mental health. 

“As pediatricians, we weigh the risk of infection versus not being in school, and that risk of not being in school has just been so detrimental to so many teens that I think it’s still worthwhile trying to keep kids in school,” Kakkar said.

However, she said, facilities and businesses associated with elective activities, such as gyms and restaurants, should remain closed mainly because of the variants of the disease, which are proving to be more contagious and dangerous.

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CBC | Health News

Canada’s COVID case count set to hit 1 million next week as variants spread

After two months of relative stability, Canada’s COVID-19 case count is expected to rise rapidly in the coming weeks as virus variants take hold.

Canada is projected to hit roughly 1 million total cases next week, according to data released today by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

While the vaccination campaign has ramped up after a period of scarcity, the rollout can’t keep pace with the spread of the virus, said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. Tam today urged Canadians to reduce their contacts in the medium-term while provinces and territories deploy more shots in the months to come.

“COVID-19 still has a few tricks in store and we need to hold on together a bit stronger and longer until vaccines have us protected,” Tam said.

While the setback is “discouraging,” she said, better days are ahead. “We are closer now than ever, but it’s still too soon to relax measures.”

Asked today when things might return to a pre-pandemic “normal,” Tam said that day is not imminent. With the caseload curve trending up, variants accelerating and vaccine distribution still quite low, a post-COVID-19 Canada is still months away, she said.

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

WATCH: Tam is asked when life will return to a pre-pandemic normal

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, responds to a question about the pandemic’s likely end date. 3:37

COVID-19 variants like B117, which is thought to have originated in the U.K., now account for a high proportion of new cases and make up half of all new cases in some areas. There are roughly 3,000 new cases being reported each day nationwide, up from about 2,000 a month ago.

Case count could rise to 12,000 a day

With variants now circulating widely, PHAC said the case count could rise to 12,000 a day if Canadians maintain or increase the number of people they are in contact with daily. The public health measures in place in most jurisdictions will be “insufficient” to keep cases at bay, the agency said.

Alberta, B.C. and Ontario are projected to see the biggest spike in daily cases — early data suggest variants are particularly widespread in these provinces. PHAC predicts Ontario alone could record as many as 10,000 cases a day if public health measures are relaxed or maintained at their current level.

While an increase in the number of new cases is almost certain over the coming weeks in the six provinces west of Atlantic Canada, PHAC says that the country will be able to hold the line at 5,000 cases a day if Canadians reduce their contacts.

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

Tam warned, however, that the B117 variant may lead to more severe cases and could prove to be more deadly.

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

“The younger people, you’re going to get some people who are going to end up in hospital,” Tam said.

PHAC is predicting the cumulative case count — the number of cases reported since this pandemic began — will jump over the next week from 951,000 to between 973,000 and 1,005,000.

The spread of the variants — which are more transmissible than the strain first discovered in Wuhan — has also resulted in an increase in hospitalizations. There are now some 2,200 people in hospitals — 600 of them in intensive care units.

But the vaccination campaign is starting to bear fruit, with case counts among the 80-plus age cohort declining dramatically.

While there were 35 cases per 100,000 people aged 80 or older in January, the case rate has dropped to less than 5 per 100,000.

Most provinces and territories have been directing the early supply of mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna to seniors. About 60 per cent of all people over the age of 80 have received at least one shot, PHAC said.

The number of outbreaks in long-term care homes is also much lower than it was just three months ago. There were as many as 500 long-term care home outbreaks at any one time in December, while there have been fewer than 100 reported throughout March.

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CBC | Health News

Officials across Canada urge new vigilance as COVID variants spread

The latest:

Alberta’s top doctor is urging people to follow both the “detail and the spirit” of public health measures as the province deals with community spread of a variant of concern first reported in the U.K.

With 1,078 reported cases of the B117 variant reported on a federal tracking site as of Wednesday evening, Alberta trails only one other province — Ontario — in total reported cases of the more transmissible variant.

“The B117 variant is spreading in many different contexts and many different settings,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a briefing on Wednesday. “And we’re seeing higher attack rates than we typically do in settings where people are exposed.”

Hinshaw said that so far, the cases the province has seen of the P1 variant (linked to Brazil) and the B1351 variant (first reported in South Africa) have been few in number and linked to travel.

The B117 variant, however, has been established in the community.

“While we are continuing to work hard to slow its spread, it is spreading in all zones of our province.”

Hinshaw said that while vaccination efforts are ramping up, the province is not yet at a point where the vaccination coverage is sufficient to “prevent severe outcomes.”

“For the next couple of months, including spring break, we need to just hold on and protect our communities with our choices.”

Hinshaw highlighted some progress around vaccinations, pointing to the province’s plan to offer first doses to all adults who want one by the end of June.

Alberta is not the only province concerned about the spread of variants of concern. As of Wednesday evening, the Public Health Agency of Canada had reported more than 4,200 cases of the variants, including:

  • 3,946 of the B117 variant.
  • 240 of the B1351 variant.
  • 71 of the P1 variant.

Ontario has seen the highest total number of cases of variants of concern of any province, with 1,134 cases of the B117 variant, 47 of the B1351 variant and 34 of the P1 variant.

In Saskatchewan, there’s growing worry about variants of concern in Regina, which has seen more than 80 per cent of the province’s variant cases.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Twitter that with the increase of variant cases, “maintaining public health measures and individual precautions is crucial to reducing infection rates and avoiding a rapid reacceleration of the epidemic and its severe outcomes.”

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Inside the race to get COVID-19 vaccines to Canadians:

CBC’s David Cochrane goes inside the processes of vaccine delivery and distribution as well as the challenges to deliver on the promise of at least one shot for every Canadian who wants it by July 1. 4:08

As of early Thursday morning, Canada had reported 919,244 cases of COVID-19, with 31,600 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,554.

In Atlantic Canada, there were three cases of COVID-19 reported on Wednesday — two in Nova Scotia and one in New Brunswick. There were no new cases reported in Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Quebec, health officials reported 703 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 13 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials also reported a rise in the number intensive care patients, up 16 compared with the prior day, for a total of 107. Total hospitalizations dropped by one, to 532.

Health officials in Ontario reported 1,508 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 additional deaths on Wednesday. A provincial dashboard listed the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations as 741, with 300 of those patients in the province’s intensive care units.

The top doctors in Ontario’s two main COVID-19 hot spots are preparing for warmer weather. Dr. Eileen de Villa and Dr. Lawrence Loh said they’re seeking to ease some of the restrictions on outdoor activities in Toronto and Peel.

Both medical officers want to keep their communities in the strictest “grey-lockdown” category of Ontario’s colour-coded pandemic framework, but with adjustments that would allow for outdoor dining and fitness.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 96 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and no additional deaths.

The Manitoba government also moved to reduce the minimum age for COVID-19 vaccines by two years — to 53 and up for First Nations people, and 73 and up for others. Those numbers do not include younger age groups with underlying health conditions that are already eligible for vaccination.

In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 87 new cases and one additional death on Wednesday. The Saskatchewan Health Authority urged people to be vigilant in the face of variant of concern cases, particularly in the Regina area.

Across the North, Nunavut will now count 12 additional cases of COVID-19, including three deaths, in the territory’s total case count. The new numbers come from Nunavut residents who caught COVID-19 or died from the virus while in Manitoba.

Nunavut Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said it’s been unclear since the start of the pandemic which jurisdiction these numbers would fall under. The cases and deaths occurred between December 2020 and January 2021. Patterson said attribution of cases of COVID-19 acquired outside the territory will continue to occur on a case-by-case basis.

There were no new cases reported in Yukon or the Northwest Territories on Wednesday.

In British Columbia, health officials reported 498 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. A joint statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said no data about variant cases was available Wednesday due to a lab sequencing issue.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

As of early Thursday morning, more than 121.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.6 million.

In Africa, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the suspension of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in some European Union nations hurts efforts to build public confidence and trust in vaccines on the continent of 1.3 billion people.

John Nkengasong said in a briefing Thursday that despite “unfortunate events” in Europe, African nations should continue rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine, the only shot currently available in many countries that have accessed batches of it through the COVAX initiative.

A nurse prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine at Mulago referral hospital in Kampala, on the first day of a vaccination campaign last week. (Badru Katumba/AFP/Getty Images)

Nkengasong said a recent meeting convened by his group concluded that vaccine-related decisions in Africa should not be “based on anything that is subjective.” He said instead there should be continuous monitoring and reporting of any adverse events following inoculations.

At least 22 of Africa’s 54 nations have received more than 14 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine as of March 13, according to the World Health Organization.

The European Medicines Agency, which is expected to update its findings later Thursday, has said there is “no indication” the AstraZeneca shot is responsible for dangerous blood clots in a few recipients. The World Health Organization has also said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any risks and recommends its continued use. Other European nations are proceeding with vaccinations despite safety worries in countries such as Germany.

In Europe, Italy inaugurated a living monument to its COVID-19 dead Thursday as it marked the anniversary of one of the most haunting moments of the pandemic: when Bergamo’s death toll reached such heights that an army convoy had to transport coffins out because its cemeteries and crematoriums were full.

Premier Mario Draghi visited the northern city on Thursday to commemorate a national day of mourning for Italy’s coronavirus victims. Flags flew at half-mast around the country and public authorities observed a minute of silence.

Draghi laid a wreath at Bergamo’s cemetery and inaugurated a forest named in honour of the more than 100,000 victims in Italy, the first country in the West to be hit by the outbreak.

“This wood doesn’t only contain only the memory of the many victims,” Draghi said. “This place is a symbol of the pain of an entire nation.”

The anniversary came as much of Italy including Bergamo is under new lockdown, with schools and restaurants shuttered, amid a new surge of infections. And it comes as Italy’s halting vaccination campaign has slowed down further because of the suspension of AstraZeneca shots pending review.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during home visits to carry out vaccinations in Rome on Wednesday. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

France is set to announce new coronavirus restrictions on Thursday, including a potential lockdown in the Paris region and in the north of the country, as the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units spikes.

“We will make the decisions we need to make,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday while visiting the hospital of Poissy and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, west of Paris. He said measures will be “pragmatic, proportionated and targeted.”

Prime Minister Jean Castex is scheduled to detail new restrictions on Thursday. The virus is rapidly spreading in the Paris region, where the rate of infection has reached over 420 per 100,000 inhabitants and ICUs are closed to saturation. France’s nationwide infection rate is about 250 per 100,000.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistani authorities are warning that strict lockdown measures may need to be implemented if the public continues to violate physical-distancing measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Health authorities say a potential lockdown could include closing businesses and restrictions on economic and social activities. The warning was issued Thursday by the National Command and Control Center, which oversees Pakistan’s response to COVID-19.

Amid a third wave of the coronavirus that is gripping Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, and the northern part of the country, Pakistani health and administrative authorities have imposed a partial lockdown in affected areas since last week. Pakistan has reported 615,810 virus cases among 13,717 deaths.

Thailand will procure an additional 100,000 doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine to be used and paid for by businesses, in the first phase of a private sector vaccination scheme.

In the Americas, Paraguayan opposition lawmakers lost a bid to impeach President Mario Abdo over the government’s handling of the pandemic.

The United States is investing $ 12.25 billion on ramping up COVID-19 testing to help schools reopen safely and promote testing equity among high-risk and under-served populations.

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Alberta says it didn’t close slaughterhouse because firm had been ‘successful’ in preventing COVID-19 spread

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the province chose not to shut down a slaughterhouse that is the site of a growing COVID-19 outbreak that claimed the life of one worker because for months the company had been successfully keeping transmission down. 

On Monday, the company — Quebec-based Olymel — announced it would voluntarily close its Red Deer, Alta., pork processing plant, saying that due to the growing outbreak it could no longer operate in a safe and efficient manner.The announcement marked an abrupt change of position hours after a company spokesperson told CBC News the plant would remain open.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) were not involved in that decision. Both had approved the plant to continue operating.

As of Tuesday, there were 343 cases of COVID-19 linked to the current outbreak, 200 of which were active.

On Jan. 28 — more than two weeks ago — Darwin Doloque, a 35-year-old employee at the plant, died of COVID-19. His death was linked to the workplace outbreak.

WATCH | Deadly COVID-19 outbreak closes Alberta slaughterhouse:

The Olymel meat processing plant in Red Deer, Alta., is closed after a deadly COVID-19 outbreak raced through it and there are concerns about why it took so long for it to close. 2:08

“It’s important to remember this particular plant has had sporadic cases, one or two at a time, for several months, and the processes that had been put in place at the plant site had been very successful in reducing spread,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday.

The outbreak had originally been declared in mid-November. OHS said it had inspected the plant 14 times since then.

However, a rapid growth in cases over the past few weeks had drawn a warning from AHS, which on Thursday sent a letter to the company cautioning the outbreak “has become a concern for public health.” 

Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, says the Alberta government should not permit unsafe workplaces to continue to operate. (Submitted by UFCW 401)

In the letter, which was obtained by CBC News, AHS said around one in five workers was believed to be infected and spreading the virus. The plant has a workforce of close to 1,850, and about 60 per cent of the staff hold at least one other job outside the slaughterhouse.

Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union said he’s disappointed by Hinshaw’s earlier comments suggesting the transmission of the virus may have occurred elsewhere, outside the plant.

“The fact of the matter is almost 2,000 people go to this workplace and this is a workplace illness and an occupational hazard,” Hesse said.

“If we saw a wedding on TV with 2,000 or 1,800 people in attendance we’d freak out.”

Hesse said a protest rally is planned for Wednesday outside the Olymel Processing Plant in Red Deer. “We can’t allow unsafe work places to continue to operate and the problem is the Alberta government is not shutting these places down and not treating these workplaces as a place of transmission,” he said.

Employees said they felt unsafe at work

But Hinshaw instead pointed to the fact that for “some time,” there had been no new cases and said there had been some talk of declaring the outbreak closed.

“Unfortunately, I think there were a concurrence of a number of events that were not limited to events directly on that plant site, and therefore we did see an increase in cases,” she said.

Workers had shared stories with CBC over the weekend, saying they felt unsafe in the workplace and were begging the government for a temporary shut down. 

WATCH | Union responds to slaughterhouse shutdown:

Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, talks about the Olymel meat processing plant temporarily shutting down. 6:40

Hinshaw said she’s been in contact with local public health colleagues who have been working to ensure workers at the plant are offered any culturally appropriate supports they need for isolation and testing, to reduce the risk of community spread. 

The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour demanded a meeting with the premier and provincial labour minister to ensure workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks are closed down before workers die or infections spread.

“I’m going to remind them that their job is to protect the public, not to protect the profits of corporations at the expense of workers or the public,” Gil McGowan said in a statement Tuesday.

“I’m going to demand that they do their damn jobs.”

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COVID-19 cases down in Ontario but variant ‘a significant threat’ to curbing spread, new modelling shows

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chairman of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, is detailing revised COVID-19 projections beginning at 3 p.m. ET.

CBC News is carrying the news conference live.

A COVID-19 variant spreading in Ontario is a “significant threat” to controlling the pandemic, but maintaining existing public health interventions will likely help encourage a downward trend in cases, even with a return to school factored in.

That’s the takeaway of updated modelling data by the province’s COVID-19 advisory table, released Thursday. 

The modelling indicates that cases and positivity are down in much of the province, that testing volumes are slightly down too. 

“Sustained high testing volumes will be important to control of the pandemic,” the report says.

At the moment, COVID-19 cases are expected to drop between 1,000-2,000 by the end of February, but that could change as the new variant of concern takes hold, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown said at a news conference.

A more grim finding: While cases are declining across long-term care homes, deaths continue to rise, with just 215 in the last seven days.

ICU capacity also continues to be strained in most regions with only one or two beds free at about half of all hospitals in the province.

Essential work is still “strongly associated” with the risk of infection. Communities with the highest proportion of essential workers continue to have the highest case numbers.

“We are still likely to surpass total deaths from the first wave,” the report says.

See the modelling for yourself at the bottom of this story.

Ontario has been over reporting completed vaccinations

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said Thursday that Ontario has been over reporting the number of people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the province.

The error means that the number of people who have received both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines is only half of what the province has been logging.

“Rather than provide data on the number of people who have been fully vaccinated … officials inadvertently provided data on the number of doses administered to achieve full vaccination,” a spokesperson for the ministry said in a statement sent to media.

Data on the total number of doses administered was not affected, the spokesperson said.

The province reported yesterday that 96,549 people had received both doses of either vaccine so far. In reality, only 48,239 had. That is up to 55,286 this morning. 

The vaccine data page has since been updated to accurately reflect the current figures, the spokesperson said.

The news comes as Ontario reported another 2,093 cases of COVID-19 and 56 more deaths of people with the illness.

It’s the first time since Sunday that the province recorded more than 2,000 additional infections. The seven-day average of daily cases, however, continued to steadily decline down to 2,128.

The new cases in today’s update include 700 in Toronto, 311 in Peel, 228 in York Region and 123 in Niagara Region. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Hamilton: 94.
  • Durham: 85.
  • Windsor-Essex: 67.
  • Halton Region: 64.
  • Waterloo Region: 56.
  • Simcoe-Muskoka: 53.
  • Ottawa: 45.
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 43.
  • Middlesex-London: 37.
  • Eastern Ontario: 30.
  • Chatham-Kent: 25.
  • Huron-Perth: 18.
  • Southwestern: 16.
  • Lambton: 15.
  • Thunder Bay: 14.

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

There are currently 21,478 confirmed, active infections provincewide, down from a peak of 30,632 on Jan. 11. That figure has been trending downward as resolved cases consistently outpace new ones. 

Ontario’s labs processed 64,664 test samples for the virus and reported a test positivity rate of 3.3 per cent — the lowest in five days.

According to the Ministry of Health, there were 1,338 people with COVID-19 in hospitals, down 44 from the day before. The number of people that were being treated in intensive care fell by 19 to 358, while the number that required ventilator decreased by 15, down to 276.

The 56 additional deaths push Ontario’s total COVID-19-linked death toll to 6,014. 

It has been two weeks since the provincial government implemented a stay-at-home order in a bid to halt surging transmission of the virus. 

The province’s chief medical officer of health said earlier this week that it looks as though a provincewide “lockdown,” which began on Dec. 26, 2020, has contributed to a recent reduction in daily cases.

The last modelling update, outlined earlier this month, suggested that patients with COVID-19 in need of critical care could overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system if community transmission of the virus continued on pace.

Students in 4 more health units return to school next week

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said today that students in four more public health units have a green light to return to schools for in-person classes next week.

That’s about 280,000 students in the following health units:

  • Middlesex-London.
  • Ottawa.
  • Southwestern.
  • Eastern Ontario.

Read the full list of school boards affected by the announcement.

In a release, Education Minister Stephen Lecce wrote that the government agrees with the “growing consensus in the medical community” that returning to school is “essential to the wellbeing, development and mental health of children.”

The government has introduced some new safety measures in schools this winter — including masking for grades 1 to 3 — though debate continues about whether the measures are adequate. 

The next wave of students, from Toronto, Peel, York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton, are currently scheduled to return on Feb. 10. 

Students in eleven other health units, including Halton and Durham regions and Simcoe-Muskoka, have not yet been told to expect when they’ll be able to return to schools.

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How the spread of coronavirus variants could completely change the pandemic in Canada 

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

More contagious strains of the coronavirus have rapidly spread to more than 50 countries around the world, raising concerns that they may already be silently driving spikes in cases in Canada that threaten to overwhelm the healthcare system. 

Variants recently identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil are transmitting much more easily than the original strain, with the first estimated to be at least 56 per cent more transmissible.

But while early research shows the variants don’t necessarily lead to an increase in severe illness, health experts are growing more concerned about the effect the more transmissible variants could have on our already strained hospitals.

“We’re already at a breaking point,” said Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. 

“It’s happening at a time when the system’s already stressed to the point of potentially being overwhelmed.”

Paramedics transport a patient to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, the day that Ontario entered a state of emergency. Health experts are growing increasingly concerned about the effect the more transmissible variants could have on our already strained hospitals. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dr. Eric Topol, a U.S. physician, scientist and clinical trials expert who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, said he’s “deeply concerned” about the spread of the new variants globally. 

“If a strain is more infectious, substantially more, that means more deaths, more hospitalizations, more ‘long COVID,'” he told CBC News. 

“We keep hearing it doesn’t cause worse illness. Well, it doesn’t have to — it just causes more people to have that same illness.”

Topol said the variant first found in the U.K., also known as B117, exhibits changes in the spike protein — a key component of how the coronavirus binds to human cells. He said that those changes are likely behind its higher transmission, with the altered spike protein potentially allowing the coronavirus to infect cells more easily.

“A virus that was substantially more fit to infect more people was the last thing we needed right now, and we’ve got it and it’s not going away,” he said.

“The only thing we can do is slow its spread.” 

How bad is the situation with variants in Canada?

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday officials “continue to monitor” the spread of the variants in Canada, with at least 25 known cases to date.

Ontario has already identified 14 cases of B117, three of which have no known link to international travel. That prompted concerns from officials it could already be driving spread more than detected in hard-hit regions of the province. 

“If that’s confirmed, we have evidence then of community transmission and that is a very serious concern that the vaccine will not be able to address quickly enough,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said this week. “It’s very likely that we have more that we’re not aware of.” 

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said if B117 continues to spread in Ontario the rate of new cases could rise to “scary,” “almost near-vertical” levels. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time we prove that there is community transmission definitively, it’s already spread like wildfire,” said Hota. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”

Brown added the variant could already be driving “a very dramatic growth in cases” in certain parts of the province, similar to the way it did in the United Kingdom despite strict public health restrictions. 

WATCH | Ontario issues stay-at-home order amid dire COVID-19 projections:

Ontario’s latest modelling data has painted a dire picture and prompted a provincewide stay-at-home order. But in many long-term care homes and ICUs, it may already be too late. 2:57

“What we’re detecting is likely only the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. “We absolutely cannot discount the possibility that it is here and it’s already having some kind of influence on the spread.”

British Columbia identified its first case of the variant first found in South Africa on Thursday, in addition to four previously discovered cases of B117.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday officials are investigating how the latest case became infected with the variant, due to the fact that they also had no known link to travel. 

“It is, of course, concerning we don’t know where this arose,” she said, signalling the variants could be spreading more widely in the community.

Five cases of B117 have also been confirmed in Alberta, along with one case of the variant first discovered in South Africa, but officials say all of those cases are travel-related.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said during a press conference Thursday that the mutation of the coronavirus is “normal” and that the “emergence of variants is not unusual or unexpected.” 

WATCH | WHO says new U.K. studies confirm variant of COVID-19 more transmissible:

The World Health Organization says a third round of U.K. studies related to a variant of the coronavirus in Britain confirms it is more transmissible and also that infected people have a higher viral load than with the original virus. 1:59

He added that while Canada initially stopped all flights from the UK over fears the variant could spread here, that ban was lifted last week in favour of mandating all travellers into the country present a negative COVID-19 test.

On Friday, scientists with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released modelling data that warned by March, B117 could become the dominant strain in the United States.

Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair of emerging viruses, said he’s concerned Canada may be unprepared for cases of the variant increasing “underneath the surface.”

“We can’t judge when there’s going to be that sudden rise,” he said. 

“You get a sense of the storm that could be coming and you’re watching that tsunami warning getting louder and louder — we need to be ready for this.” 

A person wearing a face mask walking in Vancouver on Wednesday. B.C. has identified four cases of the variant B117 first found in the United Kingdom, and one of the variant identified in South Africa. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Kindrachuk says the fact B117 took over as a main circulating strain in Ireland, England and Denmark in just a matter of weeks is “gravely concerning” for Canada because of the risk it could spread more widely here.

“The increases in cases we’re seeing right now are already concerning, but that’s not due to the variants,” he said. “So what happens when the variants start to take hold in different regions?” 

Saskatchewan is the only province that currently says all of its COVID-19 testing will detect the B117 variant, while other provinces said that they only send positive test samples for further scrutiny if the context warrants.

“We’re not necessarily picking up on the cases of the known variants,” said Hota. “There may be other variants that are evolving as well under our noses.” 

“The bottom line is, you don’t want to be stuck in a situation where by the time you have that information, it’s already your dominant strain.”

While efforts are underway to find a quicker way to test for variants, the current “deep sequencing” required is both expensive and time consuming — taking days to over a week to get results, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont.

What can be done to prevent the spread of variants? 

While many of the public health guidelines recommended to stop the spread of the coronavirus are thought to be effective against the variants, experts say we should be doubling down on them and avoiding risky situations. 

“Think of it this way, we don’t need to do more of the same — we need to do better of the same,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the CDC told CBC News. “It’s all about limiting risk.”

Physical distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene and avoiding crowds are all effective, but Frieden says people should also reduce their time spent indoors with those they don’t live with, wear better quality masks such as N95s or surgical masks and have as few in-person interactions with others as possible.  

WATCH | What scientists know about the new coronavirus variant (Jan. 8):

The B1-17 coronavirus variant, first discovered in the U.K., is now in at least 40 countries, including Canada. It has 23 mutations, including one that attaches to healthy cells like a key going into a lock. 1:56

Frieden said that means, if possible, spending a few minutes in the grocery store to pick up essential items, or ordering online, as opposed to going in for an extended period to shop. 

“In the past, with the earlier strain it was harder to get infected with it — you might have been in the same room, you might have been the same distance, and you would have evaded it,” said Topol. “But now, this has a more aggressive ability to infect.” 

Former CDC head Dr. Tom Frieden says people should spend only a few minutes in the grocery store to pick up essential items, or order online, as opposed to going in for an extended period to shop. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Frieden said at a population level, countries like Canada should focus on vaccinating as many people as they can as quickly as possible — especially older age groups and long-term care residents.

“Vaccines are enormously important. They’re the single most powerful tool that we have,” he said, “but a vaccination program is going to take a long time to go out.” 

“The more we don’t take precautions, the more we can see explosive exponential spread.”

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.

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CBC | Health News

Limiting travel within provinces is key to controlling COVID-19 spread, say experts

Given how rapidly the virus behind COVID-19 spread around the world, it’s easy to forget that it isn’t a globe-trotter on its own.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus moves with its hosts, who travel around by foot, by car, by plane, unwittingly helping this unwanted hitchhiker get around.

In Ontario, where multiple levels of government are trying to prevent infected travellers from bringing the virus in from abroad, experts warn regional movement remains a far greater driver of transmission. But it may also be trickier to curb — even as the presence of several highly transmissible new variants of the virus make it crucial to slow local spread. 

“The worst thing to do would be to let it spread throughout the country,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Sinai Health System.

“That would be a big mistake.”

Most cases spread within Ontario

Confirmed COVID-19 cases have been climbing across the province in recent weeks, with a seven-day average of roughly 3,400 new daily infections. 

In recent months, the bulk of them have been tied to either close contact with an infected person, spread in the community, or an unknown source.

Travel outside the province, on the other hand, was the confirmed infection source for just three per cent of the latest-available new daily cases from Jan. 7. 

Provincial and local data highlights how the vast majority of cases that are happening in Toronto, for instance, are happening from “people in Ontario spreading to somebody else in Ontario,” said Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist from Ontario who is currently based in P.E.I.

Still, the political focus remains on international travel, with no fresh lockdown restrictions announced in Ontario on Friday despite Premier Doug Ford suggesting the COVID-19 situation is at a crisis point.

Ford did suggest more extreme measures may be needed to combat a COVID-19 situation that’s “getting out of control,” but it’s not clear if those would include curbing local travel.

Instead, and while his government is facing blow-back for a mid-lockdown trip abroad by now-former finance minister Rod Phillips, Ford has focused on international visitors.

WATCH | New COVID-19 testing rules for travellers kicked in Thursday:

New rules requiring air travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before entering Canada will kick in on Jan. 7. Under the new rule, travellers must receive a negative result within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Canada. 3:21

“We need to do everything possible to stop this virus from coming into Canada,” Ford said Wednesday.

That day, Ontario announced the launch of a pilot program at the country’s busiest airport, Toronto Pearson, to offer free, voluntary testing for certain eligible international travellers.

A new federal policy also means anyone flying into Canada will need to provide proof of a recent negative test result for COVID-19. 

However, Morris stressed a more-transmissible form of the virus recently identified in the U.K. is already here, and could be spreading locally, with multiple cases already documented in Ontario.

“But we have no plans of controlling that whatsoever right now,” he said.

Preventing travel a ‘tall order’

In Toronto, officials stressed that tackling regional movement remains a conundrum for policy-makers.

“How do you find that very delicate balance between measures that actually limit the harms done by COVID-19 and, at the same time, mitigate the impact of restrictions on activity?” mused the city’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, in response to a question from CBC News.

Mayor John Tory called it a “tall order.”

“I don’t know that there is any way in which you could prevent Torontonians, or any other people in the province, from moving around,” he said.

WATCH | Toronto’s mayor on regional travel:

At a recent press conference, Toronto Mayor John Tory discussed the difficulties of limiting travel within Ontario to curb the spread of COVID-19. 0:31

But Morris said policy-makers can simply take cues from other countries and regions.

In the early months of the pandemic, both Italy and France launched requirements for travel documents justifying the nature of residents’ trips, in hopes of limiting internal movement.

Australia’s current approach goes even further, with travel restrictions across much of the country and a permit system in place to travel between certain states.

For the country’s northern cluster of beaches, outside residents aren’t allowed to enter at all unless they’re just travelling through without leaving a vehicle, or if they meet strict criteria — such as attending a funeral, buying food, or using services not available elsewhere — according to a recent report from The Guardian.

And in Canada’s so-called Atlantic Bubble, curtailing movement into the region, and between the Atlantic provinces, has been a key feature of the region’s efforts to keep the virus at bay.

Nova Scotia, for instance, recently announced it was tightening border restrictions with New Brunswick following the outbreak of cases in that province — with anyone coming in from New Brunswick now required to self-isolate for 14 days, unless crossing the border due to essential reasons like work or a medical appointment.

The government also controls major highways, Morris noted, and can close off highways to make it inconvenient for drivers to travel out of town for leisure while allowing essential workers to use those narrowed roads.

“It all relates to government commitment, to be honest with you, and how much we really care about reducing the number of cases,” he said.

Travellers and airline staff walk through a quiet Pearson airport, in Toronto, in December. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Residents find workarounds

Those kinds of bold approaches, however, can be derailed by public blowback. 

In December, Israel took the controversial step of mandating that all returning travellers would have to quarantine at hotels to prevent the spread of coronavirus variants, but wound up walking back the decision.

“The decision to repeal the requirement followed public criticism from a number of senior officials, and clashes between those who had been forced into the hotels and the authorities running them,” reported The Times of Israel.

Even during lockdowns, residents find workarounds, said Gardam, citing the Ontarians flocking to different cities in late 2020 depending on which ones were facing more stringent restrictions.

“I think we really saw it in the GTA, where as soon as you locked down one area, people just went to the next area,” he said. “And that was very, very, very predictable.”

That’s particularly dangerous for Ontario’s increasingly strained hospital system, which has now been tasked with transferring COVID-19 patients out of hard-hit hospitals and regions and pausing a number of non-essential procedures. 

“We’re trying to protect people who are most vulnerable from getting really sick from this, from acquiring the infection, and your community prevalence rate is the main driver of that for most people,” said Dr. Susy Hota, medical director for infection prevention and control at University Health Network in Toronto.

“We can try to preserve that as much as possible but if people are leaving their homes, there’s always that possibility.”

‘Public trust’ eroded by travel controversy

Any time there is a patchwork of policies, it creates a situation where people “have a reason to travel from an area of high transmission to an area of low transmission because it’s still open,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious diseases epidemiologist and mathematical modeller with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

The biggest challenge now facing policy makers on the travel front is communicating with the public after numerous headline-making international trips made by some of those decision-makers, she said.

After news broke that former Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips had vacationed in St. Barts and later gave up his post, CBC News later reported that Dr. Tom Stewart, a hospital CEO and former member of the province’s command table, was under fire for a trip to the Dominican Republic.

There’s also a growing number of politicians at all levels across Canada who are being outed for various visits abroad, even as public health messaging encourages people to stay home.

WATCH | Caribbean vacation costs Ontario’s finance minister his post:

Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario’s finance minister after the controversy over his Christmas vacation to St. Barts, despite the government urging people to stay at home. Meanwhile, Alberta’s minister of municipal affairs travelled to Hawaii. 1:54

After months of efforts from residents to limit their movement, Tuite said reports of people travelling for non-essential reasons has sparked outrage — and could stymie any future government efforts to curb just that.

“If you have the people who are leading this pandemic response who have decided the risk or the rules don’t apply to them, then you’re expecting other people to follow those rules, that’s an issue for public trust,” she said.

Despite the mixed messaging, surging cases mean Ford may soon be forced face tough decisions on the thorny issue of local travel.

Because, as Morris puts it, human movement is how the world “got into this mess in the first place.”

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CBC | Health News

Provinces that acted faster had more success limiting spread of COVID-19, data shows

As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit many parts of the country, provinces that were quick to act with strict containment measures have been more successful in limiting the spread, a CBC News analysis has found.

Using data from Oxford University that tracks provincial government responses to the contagion, we see within Canada a trend that has been observed in other countries: when authorities are slower to respond to a rise in new cases, it becomes more difficult to bring the spread under control.

“It’s not just about the public health measures. It’s also the timing of implementation of those measures. The timing is one of the most crucial factors,” said Saverio Stranges, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University in London, Ont.

The Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker evaluates governments based on several measures, including containment policies (travel restrictions, school closures), health policies (mask usage, testing programs), and economic policies (wage subsidies, debt relief).

After nearly 10 months of pandemic and two waves of infection, the data tells a clear story. Provinces that remained vigilant, particularly those in Atlantic Canada, avoided major outbreaks, while some that dropped their guards have struggled to contain surging case rates.

The ‘false self-confidence’ of the Prairies

Take, for example, the approaches and outcomes of Alberta and Manitoba, both of which have been hit by strong second waves of COVID-19. 

The animation below compares the provinces’ COVID-19 containment measures with their weekly case rates since September. Alberta waited to impose strict measures as its cases rose, spiking to the highest per-capita case rate in Canada so far. 

Manitoba, on the other hand, was quicker to react, and its COVID-19 case numbers plateaued sooner.

A note about Nunavut: because of its small population (less than 40,000 people), even small numbers of new COVID-19 cases appear as dramatic spikes when compared to other provinces.

“Alberta and Manitoba didn’t struggle in the first wave so much, and that set them up with a little bit of false self-confidence that they had it well in hand with very limited measures,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. 

“They should have been terrified about what happened in Quebec during the first wave. That’s what the Atlantic provinces did. They looked at it and they said, ‘Good God, we could be just like that.'”

Epidemiologist Colin Furness says provinces with low case counts in the beginning of the pandemic should have been looking at hard-hit Ontario and Quebec and preparing accordingly. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

In July, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., and Newfoundland and Labrador created a bubble around the region that restricted travel from outside provinces. Those who lived within the Atlantic bubble could travel relatively freely, but outsiders were screened when entering and had to quarantine for 14 days. The agreement was suspended in late November as COVID-19 cases increased in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The Atlantic bubble’s success was part luck

Experts interviewed by CBC News cautioned that there are significant limitations to making any direct comparisons between provinces, partly because there can be vast differences between factors such as health systems and population traits.

For example, outbreaks were more common in more populated areas, so provinces with smaller population centres had an easier task, Furness said.

“It’s not a level playing field,” he said.

Although COVID-19 can spread in rural areas, it needs a superspreader event to really take off, he said.

The chart below shows how strict provinces were in terms of a few select containment measures, according to the Oxford data. The darker the orange, the stricter the rule. Click here for a complete description of each measure.

And there are other differences between provinces that make direct comparisons tricky, Stranges said, including mobility, geography, access to public health facilities, demographics, and the standards within long-term care facilities.

Tighter measures in 1st wave despite higher numbers in 2nd

The Oxford data also reveals a curious pattern: across all provinces, measures to control the spread of COVID-19 were more stringent in the first wave, even if case loads were lower. 

Because it was a new coronavirus whose severity was not fully understood, it made sense to slam the brakes, Furness said.

“In Ontario, we were fining people for sitting by themselves on park benches in March. That’s ludicrous,” he said. “We didn’t know much about how it spreads. We knew that it was potentially massively deadly and we were frightened. What was driving the restrictive measures in March was an abundance of caution.”

But, as the pandemic wore on, provinces also needed to deal with a frustrated public and increasing pressures from the economic sector, Stranges said.

“So, you need to also compromise what is acceptable, because we know that people get tired, especially in our Western societies where people care about their individual freedoms,” he said.

Some provinces tried targeted approaches as cases cropped up in certain settings. Manitoba, for example, restricted travel to vulnerable northern communities for periods in April and September, and barred visitors from care homes in March. But the window for using such approaches effectively can close pretty quickly, said Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and founder of EPI Research in Winnipeg, a firm that provides COVID-19 planning services.

“The problem is, with a highly interconnected and interactive society, those targeted approaches became less and less effective as community spread continued,” she said.

Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr says targeted measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 lack effectiveness once there’s widespread community transmission of the illness. (John Einarson/CBC)

Malgorzata Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist and general associate in the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary, described provincial preparations for the second wave as “flirting with the virus,” as some regions across Canada slowly implemented measures piece by piece instead of using the swift lockdown approach seen in response to the first wave.

Ontario, for example, started with targeted restrictions in certain cities at the beginning of October. But the case numbers continued to grow, and by Oct. 25, the province reported more than 1,000 new cases in a single day.

The government then introduced a new rating system and corresponding set of restrictions for municipalities. Toronto and Peel Region were placed in the lockdown stage on Nov. 23. They were eventually joined by York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton, but cases continued to climb. The Ontario government eventually announced a provincewide lockdown starting on Dec. 26.

Gasperowicz said another factor that contributed to the severity of the second wave in many parts of the country was how quickly some governments lifted restrictions when the numbers started to improve following the first wave.

“The lifting of restrictions is really an essential thing, and it’s why we are in a second wave,” she said, citing the success of the Atlantic bubble and similar efforts in Australia, where restrictions remained in place until daily case counts were down to zero and community transmission was eliminated.

“We know that Atlantic Canada did the best job. Their most stringent measures weren’t lifted before they reached zero new daily cases.… Everybody else opened too early, and then you started to grow again. Slowly, but the growth was everywhere.”

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CBC | Health News

Nunavut imposes mandatory 2-week restriction period to stop the spread of COVID-19

The latest:

Nunavut is set to enter a mandatory, territory-wide restriction period for two weeks as it looks to clamp down on a recent spate of coronavirus infections.

With eight new cases reported on Monday, the territory — which only this month reported its first confirmed case of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — has recorded 22 cases in just the past three days. It has now reported a total of 26 cases, with no deaths.

Six of the new cases on Monday were in Arviat, and two were in Rankin Inlet.

The territory’s restrictions to limit the spread of the virus will take effect on Wednesday, said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson. All non-essential services, businesses and organizations will be required to close and, wherever possible, switch to work from home.

A file photo of Arviat, Nunavut, in April 2016. The community reported six new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. (Submitted by Dylan Clark)

Masks will now be strongly recommended in public spaces and when physical distance can’t be maintained. In the Kivalliq region and in Sanikiluaq, masks will remain mandatory.

Arviat Mayor Joe Savikataaq Jr. spoke with CBC’s As It Happens about how the small hamlet, which is now contending with a total of 20 cases, is coping with the outbreak.

“When the cases in Winnipeg started to rise, which is our close connection to southern Canada, I think it was a matter of time,” he said. Savikataaq called on residents to stay calm and tend to their mental health.

Elsewhere in the North, Yukon and the Northwest Territories reported no new cases on Monday.

Meanwhile, researchers in Canada and around the world have been racing to find therapeutics and vaccines, and on Monday, U.S-based company Moderna announced a significant milestone in its search for a safe and effective vaccine. 

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company said its vaccine appears to be 94.5 per cent effective, according to preliminary data from the company’s still ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own COVID-19 vaccine appeared similarly effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the United States.

WATCH | Interim analysis suggests COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna will work, but final results are necessary to confirm, says epidemiologist:

Interim analysis suggests COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna will work, but final results, expected later this year, are necessary to confirm, says epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos.   5:40

Moderna’s vaccine, created with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, is being studied in 30,000 volunteers who received either the real vaccination or a dummy shot. It’s very unusual for results to be analyzed and released before a clinical trial is complete.

Despite that, on Sunday, an independent monitoring board examined 95 infections that were recorded starting two weeks after volunteers’ second dose — and discovered all but five illnesses occurred in participants who got the placebo.

The study is continuing, and Moderna acknowledged the protection rate might change as more COVID-19 infections are detected and added to the calculations. Also, it’s too soon to know how long protection lasts. Both cautions apply to Pfizer’s vaccine as well.

Canada, which has already signed deals with several companies to procure vaccine candidates, has an agreement with Moderna to receive up to 56 million doses of its vaccine.

WATCH | Moderna development ‘good news’ but public health measures must continue, says minister:

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu spoke with reporters before question period on Monday. 3:02

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday warned against complacency in the face of increasing COVID-19 numbers, even as vaccine developments allow for what he described as cautious optimism.

“This is a dangerous virus, which can attack every system in the body,” he said. “Those countries that are letting the virus run unchecked are playing with fire.”

There’s “no excuse for inaction,” he said during a briefing from Geneva. “My message is clear: act fast, act now, act decisively.”

WATCH | WHO head urges strong action from countries on COVID-19:

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned countries that letting COVID-19 run unchecked is like ‘playing with fire.’ 2:39

What’s happening across Canada

Canada’s COVID-19 case count — as of 7 p.m. ET — stood at 302,192 with 50,878 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 11,027.

Several regions in Ontario are moving into the “red zone” on Monday after Premier Doug Ford lowered the thresholds for his colour-coded system of public health restrictions. Hamilton, Halton and York regions moved Monday to the red alert level, joining Toronto and Peel Region.

Ontario on Monday reported 1,487 cases of COVID-19, with 508 in Toronto, 392 in Peel and 170 in York.

There were 10 additional deaths reported on Monday, bringing the provincial death toll to 3,371, according to the province’s public COVID-19 tracking site. Hospitalization numbers were up to 500, with 125 in intensive care.

WATCH | Doctors call on Ottawa for #COVIDzero strategy:

Dr. Samir Sinha is among a group of medical professionals who have taken to social media to urge the Canadian government to implement a #COVIDzero strategy because, they say, measures taken to control COVID-19 have not been effective enough.   6:48

Quebec on Monday reported 1,218 new cases of COVID-19 and 25 new deaths, with six of those deaths reported to have occurred in the previous 24 hours. A provincial dashboard put the number of hospitalizations at 591, with 87 in intensive care.

The province, which has now seen a total of 125,072 cases and 6,651 deaths, announced $ 100 million in new funding for home care over the weekend.

“Home care is what people want, and they want it even more because of the pandemic,” said Health Minister Christian Dubé.

In Manitoba, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin warned “we can’t sustain this number of cases in our health-care system,” as the province announced 392 new cases and 10 more deaths on Monday.

Three of the deaths are linked to an outbreak at Maples Long Term Care Home, where more than 30 people have died.

A record 234 people are in hospital with COVID-19, with a record-high 42 of them in intensive care.

“Our health-care providers are becoming overwhelmed,” Roussin said.

The entire province moved to the red, or critical, level of its pandemic response system last Thursday. Roussin warned that any stores among those allowed to remain open that break capacity rules could be fined and said some people still aren’t following orders, with one person who tested positive last week having 85 contacts.

WATCH | Why COVID-19 is finding its way back into long-term care homes:

A growing number of long-term care homes are again overrun with COVID-19. Familiar and horrific scenes are again playing out. The problem? The virus may move quickly, but there’s no quick fix for problems in the long-term care sector that go back years. 2:32

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported two more cases on Monday, while Newfoundland and Labrador had no new cases to report. 

New Brunswick reported eight new cases on Monday, six of them in the Moncton region and two in the Fredericton region. In a news release, the province also said a new COVID-19 swish-and-gargle test for children is now available at all assessment centres in the province.

Prince Edward Island has not reported any new cases on Monday.

Alberta broke two grim COVID-19 records on Monday as it reported 860 new cases — which took the number of active cases to a provincial record of 10,031 — and 20 new COVID-19 deaths, by far its most ever in a single day.

Across the province, 264 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 57 who are in intensive care.

In Edmonton, a leaked email from an executive director of the Royal Alexandra Hospital outlined projections for a major uptick in ICU admissions and outlined some of the steps being taken to get ready.

“We need to be prepared,” said the Saturday email from Donalda Dyjur, an executive director at the hospital.

In Calgary, the chief of the city’s emergency management agency called for people to heed the warnings of physicians on Twitter, saying the second wave of COVID-19 is “large and it may run over our health-care system, our economy, and our mental health and wellness.”

Tom Sampson told CBC Calgary on Sunday that he thinks a so-called circuit-break lockdown is required.

“A hard one — it may be a fairly long one. It could be as long as 28 days,” he said. “But if we did it sooner rather than later, hopefully we’d be back up and have a normal Christmas, and have our normal shopping environment for Christmas.”

WATCH | Hospitals under pressure as COVID-19 cases rise:

In parts of the country the signs of stress on the health care system are already showing. Hospitals are telling patients to wait in their cars, or turning some of them away. And the fear is that COVID-19 is getting worse as the cold and flu season is only just beginning. 1:57

In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 181 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Premier Scott Moe said Sunday that more measures could be coming to fight COVID-19 in the province in addition to those already slated to take effect this week.

As of Monday, the province’s new public health regulations require people in communities with populations of over 5,000 to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. A growing chorus of health-care professionals and advocates are calling for the mask mandate to be extended provincewide.

British Columbia announced there have been an additional 1,959 cases of COVID-19 over the last three days and nine more deaths from the disease.

The number of patients in hospital continues to reach record highs, with 181 COVID-19 patients in hospital as of Monday, including 57 in critical care, out of 6,279 active cases in the province, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

Over the weekend, the hard-hit Fraser Health region announced three schools are being closed for two weeks because of COVID-19 cases. 

WATCH | B.C. woman on life support after getting COVID-19 while pregnant:

A B.C. woman is fighting for her life, after contracting COVID-19 from an unknown source while pregnant. Her baby was born via emergency C-section, she is in an induced coma, and her husband has a message for everyone: COVID-19 can hit anyone, even those who take every precaution. 1:59

What’s happening around the world

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:15 p.m. ET

As of Monday evening, more than 54.7 million coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide, with over 35.1 million of those listed as recovered by Johns Hopkins University. The university’s COVID tracking tool put the number of deaths at more than 1.3 million.

In the Americas, U.S. president-elect Joe Biden says the outgoing Trump administration’s failure to share specific plans on combatting the pandemic is stymying American businesses’ abilities to find ways to grow and survive in challenging circumstances.

During a speech Monday in Wilmington, Del., Biden said that “the sooner we have access to the administration’s distribution plan, the sooner this transition will smoothly move forward.”

Specifics the administration has withheld, such as vaccine distribution, could help “small businesses and entrepreneurs that are the backbone of our communities but are teetering on the edge,” he said.

WATCH | COVID-19 on rise in U.S and transition troubles could slow efforts to fight it:

Donald Trump concedes nothing as he appeared to suggest earlier Joe Biden won the election; continued transition intransigence slows down efforts to battle COVID. 1:58

Meanwhile, White House coronavirus response co-ordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said on a call with governors that 27 U.S. states are in the “red zone” for COVID-19 outbreaks and that the current spread has not yet hit its peak.

More than 11 million cases of the coronavirus have now been reported in the U.S., with the most recent million coming in less than a week.

COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly across the U.S. than it has at any time since the pandemic started. Deaths are also on the rise, though not at the record high numbers reached in the spring. The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths was more than 1,080 as of Saturday, more than 30 per cent higher than it was two weeks earlier.

COVID-19 has now killed more than 246,000 people in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC’s Today on Monday that Moderna’s finding, along with similar results from Pfizer last week for its vaccine candidate, “is something that foretells an impact on this outbreak.”

“So now we have two vaccines that are really quite effective, so I think this is a really strong step forward to where we want to be about getting control with this outbreak,” Fauci said.

Meanwhile, in Brazil the Health Ministry said it had taken the system used to report COVID-19 case numbers and deaths offline in recent days to protect against a suspected cyberattack.

In the Asia-Pacific region, India has registered 30,548 new coronaviruses cases, the fewest in the last four months but amid growing concerns about the latest surge in the capital, New Delhi.

India has now recorded a total of 8.84 million cases, second behind the U.S.

The Health Ministry said Monday that the country was showing a trend of declining average daily cases over the last two months. The ministry also reported 435 new fatalities, raising the death toll to 130,070.

India’s daily cases have seen a steady decline since the middle of September, but New Delhi is now recording more new infections than any other state.

A man in personal protective equipment sanitizes a temple before it reopens for the public in Mumbai on Sunday. (Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters)

South Korea’s daily coronavirus tally has stayed above 200 for a third consecutive day, as authorities consider raising the country’s physical distancing rules.

From Thursday, New Zealanders will be legally required to wear masks on public transport in Auckland and on planes nationwide. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Virus Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced the new rules on Monday after meeting with senior lawmakers.

The country has been largely successful in eliminating the virus but has experienced several small outbreaks in Auckland, the latest one after a military worker at a hotel where travellers returning from abroad are being quarantined got infected.

In Africa, Algeria will reimpose restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19 from Nov. 17, including closing gyms, cultural centres, leisure venues and used car markets.

In the Middle East, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday declared “the general mobilization of the nation and the government” to confront the third wave of the coronavirus. The country has reported more than 775,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 41,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

In Europe, Germany’s federal government and states are considering new measures to halt the rise in infections, such as dramatically reducing the number of people at household gatherings and compulsory mask wearing for school students.

The number of new coronavirus cases in Italy narrowed on Monday to 27,354, in keeping with weekend dips reflecting lower testing numbers, but the infection rate remained a stubborn 18 per cent. Italy is still struggling to contain a second surge, with more than half of the country on partial lockdown.

Another 504 people died in the last 24 hours, according to Health Ministry figures, bringing the pandemic total of known deaths to 45,733, second in Europe behind Britain. Hospital admissions rose by nearly 500, while another 70 people were in intensive care.

WATCH | What to do if you’re confused about COVID-19 rules and guidelines:

Doctors answer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic including what to do if you’re confused by the current rules and guidelines in your area. 5:56

Britain said on Monday it will open two new “mega” laboratories in early 2021 for carrying out COVID-19 tests, a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson went into self-isolation after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.

With banners reading “Let us Pray” and “We Want Mass,” Catholic protesters held scattered demonstrations around France on Sunday to demand that authorities relax virus lockdown measures to allow religious services.

In the western city of Nantes, hundreds gathered in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, some kneeling on the rain-soaked pavement, according to local broadcaster France Bleu. Similar gatherings were reported or planned in the eastern city of Strasbourg, in Bordeaux in the southwest, and outside the Saint-Louis Cathedral in Versailles.

Parishioners wearing protective face masks pray at Graslin square during an open air mass in Nantes, France, as public masses are suspended during the second national lockdown as part of the measures to fight a second wave of COVID-19. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

With more confirmed virus cases than any other European country, predominantly Catholic France banned mass and other religious services for the month of November as part of nationwide partial lockdown measures aimed at reining in infections and relieving pressure on hospitals. Churches and other religious sites remain open for individual visitors to come and pray.

France’s interior minister is scheduled to meet with religious leaders on Monday to discuss when and how services could again be permitted, notably amid pressure to allow Christmas ceremonies.

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CBC | Health News

10 new cases of COVID-19 found in Nunavut, with signs of community spread in Arviat

Just two days after the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Arviat, Nunavut, nine new cases have been identified in the community as health officials warn of “signs of community transmission.”

A second case in Rankin Inlet, also reported Sunday, has also “been linked to Arviat,” a release from the chief public health officer states. 

Nunavut’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was identified just nine days ago, on Nov. 6. Since then, its active case count has ballooned to 18, more than doubling with the announcement of 10 new confirmed cases Sunday afternoon.

While cases have been identified in Sanikiluaq and Rankin Inlet, Arviat appears to be in the midst of a minor outbreak, with a release sent Sunday suggesting there are as yet “no clear links” between the 14 active cases in the community.

The chief public health officer’s release also says all individuals are “in isolation and doing well.”

The territory’s rapid response teams have been deployed to all three communities, and contact tracing continues, “with the end goal to trace and contain” the disease.

As of today, travel is restricted between Kivalliq communities, which includes Arviat, to help prevent further spread. Only emergency and cargo flights will be permitted, and hunters are asked not to travel to neighbouring communities.

Kivalliq schools have been closed to in-person instruction since the cases were first announced.

Sunday’s release also specified new measures to contain the spread and limit the risk to elders. 

“Due to the number of cases of COVID-19 in Arviat, anyone from Arviat who left the community on or after November 2 is being asked to immediately isolate for 14 days wherever they are,” Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, is quoted in the release as saying.

“In addition, to protect Elders in Arviat, there will be no visitors allowed at the Elders’ centre for at least two weeks,” the quote continues. “Exemptions to this rule will need to be approved by the public health doctor on call.”

Nunavut requires all inbound travellers from outside the territory to isolate for two weeks at dedicated centres in major southern cities. For months, the territory saw no confirmed positive cases outside mine sites.

But in both Arviat and Rankin Inlet, travellers who completed two weeks at Nunavut’s isolation centres have demonstrated symptoms upon their return to the territory. Health officials have not yet identified the source of infection.

On Friday, Patterson recommended anyone returning from those hubs self-monitor for symptoms and observe strict physical distancing for two more weeks after their return.

Spokespersons for the chief public health officer did not respond to media requests sent Saturday. The premier and chief public health officer are next scheduled to speak to media Monday at 11 a.m.

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