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Negative COVID-19 test will soon be required at land border: Trudeau

Non-essential travellers entering Canada through the land border will soon need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arrival, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today.

“As of Feb.15, when you return to Canada through a land border, you’ll need to show a 72-hour PCR test, just like air travel,” Trudeau said today during his regular morning media briefing outside Rideau Cottage.

The prime minister said border officers can’t legally deny entry to Canadians,  but those who show up without proof of a test could face fines of up to $ 3,000.

“What we can do is in cases of no test to show [is] apply a stiff penalty, a fine and demand and ensure a rapid and complete followup to make sure that they are getting tested, that they are being properly quarantined, that they are not putting at risk the safety of other Canadians by returning home without a clear negative test,” Trudeau said.

“As of next Monday people who show up at a Canadian land border on non-essential travel … like returning snowbirds, will be expected to show a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours.”

The new measure comes more than a month after the government announced air travellers will need proof of negative polymerase chain reaction tests — commonly known as PCR tests — three days before boarding their flights home.

Those landing by plane also will soon need to pay for a test after they land as well. The government promised in late January that all air passengers returning from non-essential trips abroad will have to self-isolate in a federally mandated facility for up to 72 hours at their own expense.

It’s still not clear when those new restrictive measures come into place.

The testing requirement is in addition to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for returning non-essential travellers. The government has had travel restrictions on most foreign nationals in place since March 2020.

No exemption for Canadians who have been vaccinated, yet

Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer, said last week there is no exemption yet for Canadians who already have received a vaccine.

“The vaccines we have are very effective for individual protection and that’s what we might expect, but you as an individual do not know whether you are completely protected or not,” she said Friday.

“It is a 90 per cent vaccine effectiveness. You could be in the 10 per cent of the population that may have not taken to the vaccine. You still have to respect those public health measures. That is critical … right now, the scientific principle underpinning the application of vaccines for international travel cannot be made … because we do not know the vaccines reduce transmission.”

Most of the people who cross into Canada are actually exempt from quarantine, largely because they are considered essential workers.

The Canada Border Services Agency said that between March 31, 2020 and Jan. 24, 2021, close to 8.7 million travellers came to Canada; 74 per cent of them were exempt from the 14-day quarantine measures. The number is even higher at the land border alone: 92 per cent of those crossing the border were exempt during that time period.

About 4.3 million travellers — almost half the overall number — were truck drivers, said the border agency.

CBSA said the term “traveller” doesn’t mean individuals and a person could cross several times and be counted each time.

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Britain to test mixing and matching of COVID-19 vaccines

British scientists are starting a study Thursday to find out if it’s OK to mix and match COVID-19 vaccines.

The vaccines being rolled out now require two doses, and people are supposed to get two shots of the same kind, weeks apart.

Guidelines in Britain and the U.S. say the vaccines aren’t interchangeable, but can be mixed if the same kind isn’t available for the second dose or if it’s not known what was given for the first shot.

Participants in the government-funded study will get one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a dose from Pfizer, or vice versa.

“This study will give us greater insight into how we can use vaccines to stay on top of this nasty disease,” said Jonathan Van Tam, the U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer.

He said that given the challenges of immunizing millions of people amid a global vaccine shortage, there would be advantages to having data that could support more “flexible” immunization campaigns.

COVID-19 vaccines all train the body to recognize the coronavirus, mostly the spike protein that coats it. The ones from AstraZeneca and Pfizer use different technologies. AstraZeneca’s uses a common cold virus to carry the spike gene into the body. Pfizer’s is made by putting a piece of genetic code called mRNA — the instructions for that spike protein — inside a little ball of fat.

The British research is scheduled to run 13 months and will also test different intervals between doses, four weeks and 12 weeks apart.

‘Hard to know’ if plan will work

A study published this week on the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine showed it was about 91 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19. Some immunologists credit the fact that the vaccine uses two slightly different shots, made with similar technology to AstraZeneca’s.

But the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are “so different that it’s really hard to know if that would work,” said Alexander Edwards, an associate professor in biomedical technology at Britain’s University of Reading.

Matthew Snape, the new study’s leader at Oxford University, which helped develop the AstraZeneca vaccine, called for British volunteers over age 50 to sign up; scientists are hoping to enroll more than 800 people.

If the vaccines can be used interchangeably, “this will greatly increase the flexibility of vaccine delivery,” he said in a statement. “(It) could provide clues as to how to increase the breadth of protection against new virus strains.”

Public Health England’s head of immunization, Mary Ramsay, said there was a precedent for such work, as vaccines against Hepatitis A and B were interchangeable from two different manufacturers, and similar work has been undertaken for human papillomavirus (HPV).

In recent weeks, Britain, the European Union and numerous other countries including Canada have been hit with vaccine supply issues: AstraZeneca said it would dramatically reduce the expected number of doses it could deliver due to manufacturing delays and Pfizer also slowed deliveries while it upgraded its Belgian factory.

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A 15-Minute Smartphone COVID Test Is Coming to the US

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The Biden administration has made tackling the coronavirus pandemic its top priority with plans to ramp up both testing and vaccine distribution. The Department of Defence and Department of Health and Human Services have awarded $ 230 million to Australian biotech firm Ellume to produce a 15-minute COVID test that sends results directly to your phone. 

Ellume has not gone through the full FDA approval process, but it received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in December for the test, which is 95 percent accurate in diagnosing SARS-CoV-2 infection. When it got the EUA, Ellume was only manufacturing about 16,000 tests per day. With the influx of cash, Ellume plans to produce 19 million tests per month by the end of 2021. The company plans to ship 100,000 kits per month to the US between February and July. 

The Ellume test uses a nasal swab like many of the early COVID tests, but it’s not a “brain tickler” like the test you might have taken a few months ago. The swab only goes into the mid-sinus to collect its sample. The kit, which will be available over the counter, comes with a single-use swab, a vial of reagents, a dropper/mixer, and an analyzer. You’ll have to supply your own smartphone, though. 

The analyzer has a Bluetooth radio that links with the Ellume app, available for both iOS and Android. The app also has full animated instructions on how to perform the test. The Ellume test works by binding special fluorescent chemicals to the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid — the external shall of the virus particle. When applied to the tester, the liquid absorbs into an embedded test strip where it encounters antibodies that recognize the SARS-CoV-2 shell. The analyzer reads the fluorescent illumination from different areas of the strip to determine if there is viral antigen in the sample. If the light signature rises to a certain level, that’s a positive test.

The result is beamed over Bluetooth to your connected phone in just 15 minutes. The company says its technique is very accurate, but it’s more likely to return false negatives for asymptomatic individuals. Meanwhile, anyone without symptoms who gets a positive test should consider that a presumptive positive, which should be confirmed via standard molecular testing. 

The current plan is to make the Ellume test available over-the-counter. So, you won’t need to visit a doctor to get one. You will, however, have to be lucky. As the first OTC COVID tests in the US, demand will probably be sky-high.

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NASA Still Undecided on New SLS Rocket Test After Early Shutdown

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NASA attempted an important ground test of the Space Launch System (SLS) last weekend, aiming to fire the vessel’s main engines for eight minutes to simulate a real launch. Unfortunately, the test ended after barely a minute. NASA has now analyzed the test and says there’s no physical problem with the rocket. It may even re-run the test, which is one of the final pieces of the puzzle before NASA begins assembling the first flight-ready SLS stack. 

The SLS has been in development for more than a decade with a total bill of more than $ 17 billion so far. NASA will eventually use the SLS to return to the moon for the Artemis program, as well as to launch large payloads into the outer solar system. The core stage sports a quartet of RS-25 engines, the same model used on the Space Shuttle. Last weekend’s test called for the core stage to be locked to a B-2 test stand while the engines ran for the full duration of a launch. The flight control team announced a “major component failure” after 67 seconds, which is when the SLS automatically shut down. 

NASA set to work investigating the cause of the error — if the SLS core had a physical defect, that could mean months of costly redesigns. Luckily, NASA now says the hardware is in “excellent condition.” The shutdown was apparently a result of the conservative abort threshold for hydraulics in place for the test. The team believes the rocket would have performed perfectly with a more permissive test protocol. 

The question remains, should NASA make absolutely certain the rocket would have passed the test? NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is on the way out as the Biden administration takes over the government, but before his departure, he told reporters NASA was undecided about re-running the test. “We might be able to take the rocket down to Kennedy and get it ready for launch,” Bridenstine said.

If NASA reruns, the team can simply change the thrust vector control to prevent another shutdown. That would allow engineers to gather even more data on the rocket’s performance, but former administrator Bridenstine said the team got a wealth of data even from the shortened test. Boeing, the primary contractor for SLS, apparently wanted at least 250 seconds of data. The final decision will probably depend on what the Biden administration plans for NASA. The previous administration was firm that it wanted humans on the moon by 2024, but the timeline might be less pressing now.

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NASA’s SLS Rocket Fails Major Engine Test

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NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2011 and embarked on two projects that would eventually restore its access to space. There’s the Commercial Crew Program, which recently led to the SpaceX Dragon successfully transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The Space Launch System (SLS), which is NASA’s upcoming heavy-lift rocket, has been slower to take shape. In its first major engine test over the weekend, the SLS had to shut down after just one minute of a planned eight-minute test. NASA doesn’t want to call it a failure, but plenty of others are. 

The SLS is a heavy-lift rocket similar to the Saturn V or SpaceX Falcon Heavy. In the last decade, NASA has spent over $ 17 billion on the SLS. When complete, it will have enough power to send humans to the moon again and launch large payloads to the outer solar system. The vessel will have a pair of solid rocket boosters, the design of which has already been tested, but there’s less that can go wrong with solid boosters. The test over the weekend focused on the core stage’s four RS-25 engines (above), the same model used on the Space Shuttle. 

In the hot test, the core stage was docked to a test rig on the ground to keep it from flying off. NASA intended to fire the engines for eight minutes, just like a real launch. However, the flight control center called an “MCF” on engine four after one minute — that stands for major component failure, which sounds pretty bad. The test ended after 67 seconds. Outgoing NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said of the test, “It’s not everything we hoped it would be.”

We don’t know exactly what happened yet, but the timing of the failure could offer some clues. At one minute in the SLS launch protocol, the engines are supposed to throttle down from 109 percent nominal thrust to 95 percent while also adjusting their axis of thrust, known as gimbaling. Engineers spotted a small flash on the thermal protection sheath surrounding engine four, followed by the error that led to the shutdown. If there’s a problem with engine four, NASA can swap it with a spare RS-25 that it has left over from the Shuttle program, but that won’t do the trick if there’s a problem with the way the engines are integrated with the rocket itself. 

NASA, Boeing (the primary SLS contractor), and Aerojet Rocketdyne (builder of the RS-25 engines) are investigating the problem. If the solution is as simple as swapping the engine, that could happen in as little as a week or 10 days. However, NASA’s plan to launch the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission in 2024 is looking increasingly unworkable.

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4 members of Manchester City women’s team test positive for COVID-19

Manchester City, home to Canadian international Janine Beckie, says four members of its women’s team have tested positive for COVID-19.

The FA Women’s Super League club did not identify the affected players but said they were self-isolating in accordance with Football Association and U.K. government protocol.

“Everyone at the club wishes our colleagues a speedy recovery ahead of their return to work, training and competition,” the club said in a statement.

City, which currently stands fourth in the table at 5-1-3, is scheduled to host the West Ham women behind closed doors on Saturday.

The Manchester City men have also been hit by COVID, with six players missing from Sunday’s 3-1 win at at Chelsea.

This past November, Beckie scored in an FA Cup final for Manchester City as the defending champions beat Everton 3-1 after extra time.

The 26-year-old forward, a dual citizen raised in Colorado by her Canadian parents, signed a two-year extension with Man City back in April.

WATCH | Janine Beckie goal seals victory for Man City:

Canadian Janine Beckie scored the insurance marker as Manchester City beat Everton 3-1 in the Women’s FA Cup final. 0:30

It was City’s third Women’s FA Cup triumph in four seasons — a winning streak that began with another American, Carli Lloyd, netting in the 2017 victory over Birmingham.

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Air travellers entering Canada must have a negative COVID-19 test before arrival, Ottawa says

Air passengers entering Canada will soon need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in the country, the federal government announced today.

Under the new protocol, travellers must receive a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within a 72-hour period prior to boarding a plane. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said he expects the new rule will be in force within a week.

The measure does not replace the federal government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair warned.

“This is not an alternative to quarantine. It’s an additional layer,” Blair said during a public health briefing.

He said Ottawa is discussing implementing more testing protocols at land points of entry with a number of provincial health authorities, but added that effort involves “issues of some complexity” the government is still working through. 

The federal government hasn’t fully explained how the pre-boarding testing will be administered to incoming travellers, though Transport Minister Marc Garneau — who is in talks with airlines and officials in his department — is expected to share more details Thursday.

WATCH | Public Safety Minister Bill Blair on new COVID-19 measures for air travel:

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair outlines enhanced COVID-19 measures for travellers returning to Canada, including plans to reinforce public health messaging in airports and new requirements for a negative COVID-19 test before re-entry into the country. 1:58

Lack of information ‘causing panic,’ Conservatives say

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner criticized the Liberal government over the timing of the announcement and said the lack of policy specifics will lead to anxiety and confusion for Canadians abroad.

“I’m glad to hear that the Trudeau Liberals are finally taking our advice and looking at implementing testing protocols for international travellers returning to Canada,” she said in a media statement.

“However, the lack of details around this announcement is causing panic among Canadians currently abroad. The government has had months to implement a system and today put forward a haphazard announcement that is a response to headlines rather than an actual thoughtful and transparent plan.”

A spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, said the provincial government is pleased the federal government responded to Ford’s “ongoing calls for the federal government to take action at our borders.”

“This is welcome news,” said Ivana Yelich. “We look forward to seeing further progress by the federal government when it comes to getting pre-departure testing in place at Toronto Pearson International Airport.”


In response to Wednesday’s news, the National Airlines Council of Canada said the country’s aviation industry has been calling for a more coordinated testing approach “to avoid a rushed and disjointed rollout” of testing requirements.

“Today’s announcement occurred without prior coordination with industry, and with many major operational and communication details still to be determined,” council president Mike McNaney said in a media statement.

“At a broader level, the announcement only addresses one element of the path forward — the utilization of testing to help further protect public health. We strongly believe it must also be utilized in conjunction with measures to reduce quarantine levels, as is being done in countries all around the world.”

An industry source — who spoke to CBC News on the condition of confidentiality — said the airlines were “totally blindsided by the announcement.”

“Airlines were not consulted,” said the source. “It was clear to them that the government had not studied whether or not PCR tests are even available and what the rules would be around who should be denied boarding.”

Blair underlined that the point of the new requirement is not to shorten quarantine times and said it’s “important not to conflate the two issues.”

Travellers unable to get tested won’t be left behind

In an interview with CBC News, LeBlanc said it will be up to travellers to arrange for PCR tests themselves, given that those embarking on non-essential trips overseas have chosen already to flout public health guidelines.

“The Government of Canada obviously is not in a position to set up in hotels or all-inclusive resorts or Canadian consulates,” he said.

Travellers who are unable to procure tests before their flights home won’t be stranded abroad, LeBlanc said. Immediately upon their return to Canada, he said, those passengers will be required to isolate at federally-approved sites until they obtain negative test results and meet other quarantine commitments.

The minister said it would be “irresponsible” for any Canadian traveller to sidestep the testing requirements.

He added that pre-boarding testing would not affect Alberta’s ongoing pilot project for international travellers, which allows people to leave quarantine if they receive a negative test after returning to Canada.

Border agency boosts airport presence

The additional measure comes as Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips is under fire over news that he had travelled to the Caribbean island of St. Barts for a personal vacation earlier this month. Phillips is on his way back to Canada after Ontario Premier Doug Ford demanded his return.

Quebec Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand has also received criticism for visiting Barbados during the holidays, a trip Arcand now says he regrets.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says border officers are beefing up their presence in Canadian airports to reinforce public health messaging as the federal government moves to implement negative COVID-19 test requirements for incoming travellers. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will also be beefing up its presence at airports across Canada to ensure travellers are adhering to public health guidelines, Blair said.

“Additional border officers will be present at various positions to reinforce compliance messaging,” the minister said, adding that teams already have been sent to customs and baggage areas and inspection lines to speak to travellers about their obligations — and the consequences of failing to follow the rules.

The federal government has advised against non-essential travel outside Canada since the start of the pandemic, though officials noted Wednesday that about two per cent of COVID-19 cases have been brought into the country from overseas.

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Quebec wants travellers returning from holidays abroad to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding planes

Travellers planning to return home to Quebec after holidaying abroad should face strict measures, including being tested for COVID-19 before hopping on a flight home and once again upon their arrival, the provincial health minister announced today.

This comes after Quebec recorded 2,381 new cases on Tuesday, along with 64 new deaths.

Saying the situation in Quebec hospitals is “critical,” particularly in the Montreal area, Christian Dubé announced he is asking the federal government for a series of measures to prevent travellers from spreading COVID-19 after returning to Quebec. They inlcude:

  • People returning to Quebec should be tested for COVID-19 before boarding their flight and not be allowed on a plane if they test positive for the virus.

  • Travellers should be subjected to rapid testing upon their arrival at international airports, such as Jean Lesage in Quebec City and Pierre Elliott Trudeau in Montreal. 

  • Dubé has also asked the federal government to tighten the enforcement of quarantine measures for travellers who have returned.

Dubé said Quebec and Ottawa “agree on these measures,” but that they are in negotiation about a timeline for implementing them. 

“If it was up to me, we would do it as of tomorrow morning,” the health minister said. “But we are in discussion with the federal government and we will continue those discussions over the next few hours.”

WATCH | Why Quebec’s health minister wants Ottawa to apply stricter rules for travellers:

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé is asking the federal government to ramp up measures for travelers returning to Canada. 1:21

Dubé said the new rules are necessary to avoid the surge in cases that occurred last spring in Quebec, where spring-break travellers brought the coronavirus home from abroad and Quebec experienced the worst caseloads in the country.

“The images we’ve seen of travellers down south are shocking for everybody, especially for those following the rules and the health-care workers,” Dubé said. “We have to remember what’s happening here.”

Dubé was referring to photos on social media of maskless Quebecers dining out, dancing and drinking in close proximity to other people at resorts.

Last Thursday, the Institut national d’excellence en santé et services sociaux (INESSS) published projections about hospital needs, indicating that Quebec hospitals could run out of beds by mid-January.

 “We will go beyond our capacity and half of the designated beds are already taken up,” Dubé said. “We have to remember why we are making these sacrifices.” 

The risks of travel

Dubé warned the costs of contracting COVID-19 while abroad — or of breaking rules here — could be very steep.

He said Quebecers who test positive for COVID-19 at a foreign airport will have to find hotels to stay in and pay the cost themselves before they can return home.

He also said Quebec has no intention of going beyond standard reimbursement for health care abroad, and that travellers will have to hope their private travel insurance covers any hospitalization or medical care because RAMQ coverage is “minimal.”

The health minister also reminded Quebecers that the fines for disobeying quarantine rules once back in Canada range from $ 800 to $ 750,000.

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IIHF says 8 Germans, 2 Swedes test positive for COVID-19 inside world junior bubble

The International Ice Hockey Federation says eight players from Germany’s team at the world junior hockey championship have tested positive for COVID-19 inside the Edmonton bubble.

The IIHF says the Germans will all remain in quarantine until Thursday. The country is scheduled to open its tournament against Finland the following afternoon — Dec. 25 — before facing Canada on Boxing Day.

The quarantine means Germany, with a roster that includes Ottawa Senators prospect and 2020 No. 3 overall draft pick Tim Stuetzle, will miss exhibition games against Austria and the Czech Republic ahead of the annual under-20 event.

The IIHF also announced two members of Sweden’s team staff have tested positive.

The Swedes will stay in quarantine until Monday, with the exception of those exempt from serving longer periods based on previous positive tests that “provide a personal immunity and no threat of infection to others.”

Tournament set to start Christmas Day

Sweden is scheduled to face Canada in an exhibition game Monday.

The IIHF says more than 2,000 tests have been conducted on players, staff and game officials since they entered the Edmonton bubble Sunday.

Teams without positive tests were eligible to begin training Friday.

The tournament is scheduled to begin Christmas Day — including that meeting between the Germans and Finns — at Rogers Place. The first exhibition games are slated for Sunday.

The NHL implemented similar bubbles for the restart of its pandemic-delayed 2019-20 season this summer. The bubbles are tightly controlled and include strict health and safety measures implemented in hopes of keeping the coronavirus at bay.

The league said it had zero positive results over more than two months.

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Test positivity rate among Manitoba’s First Nations hits 25%, with 829 COVID-19 cases in past week

The number of COVID-19 cases among First Nations people in Manitoba continues to skyrocket, with 829 new cases recorded in the past week alone.

The five-day test positive rate among First Nations people was at 25 per cent Friday, the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team said in its latest update — nearly double the provincewide rate of 13.8 per cent announced the same day.

More than half of the COVID-19 patients in Manitoba’s intensive care beds are First Nations people. In total, there were 91 First Nations patients in hospital due to COVID-19 as of Friday, the team said in its weekly update.

Provincewide, there are currently 297 people in hospital, with 40 people in intensive care due to COVID-19.

Since the start of the pandemic, 59 First Nations people in Manitoba have died after contracting the illness, including 12 since Dec. 4.

The new cases in the last week bring the total number of First Nations people in Manitoba who have tested positive for COVID-19 to 4,239. 

Nearly half of those cases have been in the Winnipeg region, and more than 1,200 have been in the province’s north. 

Over the weekend, isolation units had to turn people away in some communities because they were totally full, said Melanie MacKinnon, who leads the pandemic response team established by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

She implored people to follow public health orders as health teams continue to be stretched extremely thin.

“The idea of a lot of people or additional supports coming in to help us, and we’re not changing our behaviour, needs to be really reconsidered,” she said during the AMC’s weekly Facebook live update. 

“That’s not going to be our reality. Everybody is completely stretched and the holidays are coming. We have to really rally for our health system right now.”

Shamattawa update 

Meanwhile, the chief of Shamattawa First Nation, where at least a quarter of the 1,300 people in the community have tested positive, says he’s awaiting approval of his request for more military personnel to be sent to help. 

Medics and rangers landed in Shamattawa on Wednesday to conduct an assessment in the northern First Nation. The team’s commanding officer made a request for a further 60 to 70 Armed Forces member to help fight the community’s outbreak.

A military team has arrived to help deal with the escalating COVID-19 crisis in Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba, where some 300 people have tested positive in a community of about a thousand people. 1:39

Chief Eric Redhead said he’s now waiting for a formal request for services to be approved by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

“We hope to know shortly,” he said during the Facebook live. 

As of Thursday, Redhead said 313 community members have tested positive, but he thinks that number is likely much higher. The community hasn’t been able to transport people to and from the clinic safely, because members of the local pandemic response team are either isolating or have tested positive.

“So we know the number is significantly higher, but because we’re not able to do the large number of tests we have in the past, we’re just seeing increment growth. But I think today we have a plan, we have some more people coming out of isolation,” Redhead said. 

“I think we’re going to see more people tested and see those numbers climb dramatically.”

On Friday Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said that more than 100 of the 447 new cases announced in Manitoba were confirmations of rapid tests done recently on Shamattawa First Nation.

A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said discussions remain ongoing between Shamattawa and provincial and federal authorities about where and how the military can be best utilized, but no further decisions have been made at this point. 

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