Tag Archives: variant

Vancouver Canucks confirm variant responsible for team’s COVID-19 outbreak

The Vancouver Canucks confirm a variant of the COVID-19 virus is responsible for the outbreak that has ravaged the team.

“As of today, 25 individuals have tested positive and the source infection is confirmed a variant — full genome sequencing by [B.C. Centre for Disease Control] will be required to determine which specific type,” reads the statement from the team.

So far, 21 players and four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. An additional player is considered a close contact.

Earlier, the chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health told CBC News that officials had traced how the virus first gained a foothold in the team.

“The cluster at the Vancouver Canucks … we do know how the virus entered that community,” said Dr. Patricia Daly. “We don’t provide details of any cases.” 

The Canucks statement said the source is “a single individual obtained in a community setting, which has since been identified by public health as a public exposure location.”

“Rapid spread of infection throughout the team indicates a link between contacts and the primary case.”

Forward Adam Gaudette was the first member of the team to test positive for COVID-19 and was pulled off the ice mid-practice on March 30. 

Defenceman Travis Hamonic followed the next day and the NHL postponed the Canucks game against the Calgary Flames that evening.

Five more games have since been postponed as the virus spread among players and staff.

With the team having played just 37 of 56 regular season games, it’s unclear what the remainder of the season will bring. 

An NHL spokesperson said “a 56-game season is still the focus” but if necessary, the league has some flexibility on scheduling the opening of playoffs.”

The prolonged layoff while battling the virus could be another blow to Vancouver’s already precarious playoff hopes.

Heading into Wednesday night, the Canucks (16-18-3) trailed Montreal by eight points for the final playoff spot.

“The health and safety of players, staff, families and the greater community remains the utmost priority,” said the Canucks.  

“This is a stark reminder of how quickly the virus can spread and its serious impact, even among healthy, young athletes.

All staff and players remain in quarantine, according to the team.

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N.W.T. confirms first COVID-19 variant of concern

A case of COVID-19 reported earlier this week at the Diavik Diamond Mine —about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife — has been confirmed as the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom. 

No other cases have been detected since the case was first reported on March 29

The person who tested positive and 35 others who were close contacts are still self-isolating at the mine site. The person infected is “doing well.” 

The office of the chief public health officer previously reported that the person contracted the virus outside of the remote mine site, which is accessible only by air or ice road. 

A news release from the N.W.T.’s chief public health office says Diavik Diamond Mines will test all employees at the mine, and “continue to work with Public Health officials to mitigate transmission risk.” 

The case is not being reported in the territory’s COVID-19 statistics as the worker is not an N.W.T. resident. There is no risk to the public at this time, according to the release.

An outbreak earlier this year at the Gahcho Kue diamond mine — about 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife and similarly remote — grew to include 20 cases. That outbreak was declared over on March 26

Nunavut faced a similar outbreak at the Hope Bay gold mine, which lies near the Arctic coast nearly 700 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife. 

Diavik has recorded three positive cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Two workers tested positive at the mine on Dec. 23. One tested positive in November of last year. 

None of those cases lead to further spread within the mine. 

Reporting on COVID-19 outbreaks at northern mines has provided a rare window in the scale of remote, fly-in operations. Otherwise, little is known about how many fly-in workers are employed in Canada’s North. 

Diavik Diamond Mines is a joint venture between the Rio Tinto Group and Dominion Diamond Corporation. 

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CBC | Health News

Significantly higher death rate reported for coronavirus variant first detected in U.K.

A highly infectious variant of the novel coronavirus that has spread around the world since it was first discovered in Britain late last year is between 30 per cent and 100 per cent more deadly than previous dominant variants, researchers said on Wednesday.

In a study that compared death rates among people in Britain infected with the new SARS-CoV-2 variant — known as B117 — against those infected with other variants of the COVID-19-causing virus, scientists said the new variant’s mortality rate was “significantly higher.”

The B117 variant was first detected in Britain in September 2020, and has since also been found in more than 100 other countries.

It has 23 mutations in its genetic code — a relatively high number — and some of them have made it spread far more easily. Scientists say it is about 40 per cent to 70 per cent more transmissible than previous dominant variants that were circulating.

‘A threat that should be taken seriously’

In the U.K. study, published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday, infection with the new variant led to 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 COVID-19 patients, compared with 141 among the same number of patients infected with other variants.

“Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly, this makes B117 a threat that should be taken seriously,” said Robert Challen, a researcher at Exeter University who co-led the study.

Independent experts said this study’s findings add to previous preliminary evidence linking infection with the B117 virus variant with an increased risk of dying from COVID-19.

Initial findings from the study were presented to the U.K. government earlier this year, along with other research, by experts on its New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, or NERVTAG, panel.

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick University, said the precise mechanisms behind the higher death rate of the B117 variant were still not clear, but “could be related to higher levels of virus replication as well as increased transmissibility.”

He warned that the variant was likely fuelling a recent surge in infections across Europe.

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Moderna begins studying potential COVID-19 vaccine booster targetting variant first detected in South Africa

Drug manufacturer Moderna says it will begin testing a variant-specific version of its COVID-19 vaccine that would target the B1351 variant first detected in South Africa.  

The company has previously reported that its original two-dose vaccine — already approved for use in Canada — appears to provide protection against the B117 variant first detected in the U.K., as well as the B1351 variant, though its own research suggests it may be less effective against the latter

The company says it will study the B1351 variant-specific vaccine both as a potential booster to the original COVID-19 vaccine and as a standalone for people who have not yet received a vaccine at all. 

It will study the outcomes of three different scenarios:

  • A single shot of the B1351 variant-specific vaccine. 
  • A shot combining both the original vaccine and the B1351 variant-specific booster. 
  • A booster of the original vaccine, added to the original two-dose version. 

The B1351-specific vaccine will undergo clinical trials at the National Institutes for Health in the U.S.

“As we seek to defeat COVID-19, we must be vigilant and proactive as new variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerge,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna in a statement. 

“Leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are moving quickly to test updates to the vaccines that address emerging variants of the virus in the clinic.”

Moderna reported last month that its vaccine was essentially as effective against the B117 variant as it was to prior variants.

But it found there was a reduction in its neutralizing ability against the B1351 variant. 

Neutralizing antibodies are one of the body’s immune responses to control viral infections.

South Africa paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after data from a small trial suggested the vaccine did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the B1351 variant now dominant in the country.

Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novavax have all looked at how their vaccines perform against the B1351 variant.

WATCH | Doctor calls for aggressive action to target COVID-19 variants:

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live, Dr. Brooks Fallis speaks out against reopening plans in several provinces as officials study potential implications of the spread of new COVID-19 variants. 8:46

Variants confirmed around the world

The B1351 variant has been detected in at least 40 countries while the B117, first detected in the U.K., has now been identified in 80. Both have been found in Canada. 

Health Canada would need to approve any booster or new vaccine against the B1351 variant before it could be administered here.

The prime minister confirmed Wednesday that Moderna will deliver the two million doses of COVID-19 vaccine it is contracted to provide Canada by the end of March. 

Justin Trudeau said Canada expects to receive 460,000 doses the week of March 8 and 840,000 doses beginning  March 22.

That’s in addition to the 518,000 Moderna shots that have been administered in this country already and the 168,000 doses that are set to arrive this week.

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Pfizer says variant identified in South Africa could significantly reduce protective antibodies from vaccine

A top Pfizer scientist says the company is in intensive discussions with regulators to test a booster shot version of its coronavirus vaccine specifically targeted for a highly contagious variant that is spreading widely in South Africa and elsewhere.
A laboratory study released on Wednesday suggested that the coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa may reduce protective antibodies elicited by the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by two-thirds, but it is not clear how much that reduces the shot’s effectiveness against this version of the pathogen.
Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists and a co-author of the study, said in an interview on Thursday that he believes the current vaccine is highly likely to still protect against the concerning variant first discovered in South Africa.
“A level of neutralizing antibodies that may be on the order of between a third and a half the level of neutralizing antibodies you see against the original virus does not mean you have only a third to half of the protection level, you may well have full protection,” he said.

Reduction in antibodies

For the study, scientists from the companies and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) developed an engineered virus that contained the same mutations carried on the spike portion of the highly contagious coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa, known as B1351.

The spike, used by the virus to enter human cells, is the primary target of many COVID-19 vaccines.

Researchers tested the engineered virus against blood taken from people who had been given the vaccine, and found a two-thirds reduction in the level of neutralizing antibodies compared with its effect on the most common version of the virus prevalent in U.S. trials.

Their findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

University of Texas Medical Branch professor and study co-author Pei-Yong Shi said he also believes the lessened immune response observed is likely to be significantly above where it needs to be to provide protection.

Shi said that in clinical trials, both the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and a similar shot from Moderna conferred some protection after the first of two doses with an antibody response lower than the reduced levels seen in the laboratory study of the B1351 variant.

Still, Dormitzer, chief scientific officer of viral vaccines at Pfizer Vaccines Research and Development, said the company was developing plans to test a redesigned booster for the vaccine.

WATCH | Canada to ramp up coronavirus vaccine rollout: 

Canada has been promised millions more COVID-19 vaccine doses in the coming months, including more deliveries from Pfizer as vaccination campaigns ramp up. 4:05

“We’re not doing that primarily because we think that means that we’re going to need to change that vaccine,” he said. “It’s primarily to learn how to change strain, both in terms of what we do at the manufacturing level, and especially what the clinical results are.
“So if a variant comes along for which there is clinical evidence of escape, we’re ready to respond very quickly.”

Prototype vaccine targeting variant in the works

He said the company has already made a DNA template for a prototype vaccine targeting the variant and plans to manufacture a batch of it.

The company is proposing to do a Phase I clinical trial of a booster shot of that prototype vaccine that it would test against a booster for the current vaccine.

“This will be a immunogenicity study where you look at the immune response. And those studies are much, much smaller than the giant efficacy studies,” Dormitzer said.

“In immunogenicity studies you can look at the immune response of every person in the study. It’s not as definitive as efficacy data, for sure. But it can be gathered much more quickly,” he explained.

The company would likely conduct some animal testing in parallel as well, he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet released a roadmap for how companies should design trials of coronavirus booster shots.

On Wednesday, Moderna also published a correspondence in NEJM with similar data previously disclosed elsewhere that showed a six-fold drop in antibody levels versus the variant identified in South Africa.

Moderna also said the actual efficacy of its vaccine against this variant is yet to be determined. The company has previously said it believes the vaccine will work against the variant. 

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N.L. reports 26 new cases of COVID-19 as province focuses on protecting seniors from new variant

Newfoundland and Labrador reported 26 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Saturday — which includes the nine cases announced Friday night.

The province also reported a single new recovery in the Western Health region, meaning there are 285 active cases province-wide. 

In the last day, 1,618 people have been tested, for a total of 89,065 since the pandemic began.

On Friday night, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald told reporters the recent mass spread in cases stems from the coronavirus variant B117, forcing the province to move backward to Alert Level 5 of its pandemic response plan with sweeping restrictions, closures and lockdowns. 

During Saturday’s media availability, Fitzgerald said that while it’s known the B117 variant is estimated to be 70 per cent more transmissible than the original strain, it is still unknown whether the variant causes more or less severe illness.

“While the vast majority of cases in our province have been mild or even have had no symptoms, this could be because most of the affected individuals are young,” she said. 

“Our greatest concern is how this variant could impact seniors, particularly those living in congregate living facilities.”

Watch Saturday’s full provincial COVID-19 briefing:

Because of the unknown impact of the variant, the province is bringing in added restrictions to protect seniors. 

We fought an outbreak before, knowing much less about the virus than we know now.– Dr. Janice Fitzgerald

All personal-care homes, long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities in the province must suspend group activities outside of the homes. Visitation is also reduced to one essential visitor for residents who require one, Fitzgerald said. Essential visitors are those who are considered by the resident’s care team to be paramount to the resident’s well being, she added. 

Residents who are admitted from the community or acute care must undergo screening, testing and isolation prior to admission to the home or facility. Anyone else who enters the building must be screened. 

Staff must only be shared with other homes or facilities in urgent situations where direct care will be adversely impacted, and residents must be monitored daily for signs of COVID-19.

“We all need to keep the faith, stay strong and determined. We fought an outbreak before, knowing much less about the virus than we know now,” said Fitzgerald.

“We can do this, and we will do this. So hold fast, Newfoundland and Labrador.”

In addition, provincial government employees were also told Saturday that many of them would begin working from home.

The province’s top bureaucrat sent a message to employees, notifying them that face-to-face services would be reduced across all government departments.

“As occurred last March when the pandemic began, we are once again going to operate with the minimum number of employees to continue to provide essential services,” the message read.

The arrangement is in place for at least the next two weeks.

Changes for rotational workers

On Saturday, the province also adjusted its isolation protocols for all rotational workers returning to Newfoundland and Labrador, regardless of if they are returning from a non-outbreak site or not.

Effective immediately, Fitzgerald said, rotational workers returning to the province must self-isolate away from families for 14 days and are no longer able to avail of a COVID-19 test on the seventh day of their isolation.

Any rotational worker who has recently returned to the province and has not yet received a test on day seven will not be able to receive it, and must start self isolating away from family members immediately.

There are no changes for international rotational workers or workers returning from international sites or known outbreak sites, Fitzgerald added. Those workers must still self isolate for 14 days away from their family. 

“The Canadian Red Cross is available to assist anyone who does not have a place to self-isolate or those who are in self isolation and need help accessing essentials, such as food and medication,” she said. 

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald adjusted isolation protocols for all rotational workers returning to the province, regardless of if they are returning from a non-outbreak site or not. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

When asked why this decision was being made, given that the outbreak is coming from inside Newfoundland and Labrador, Fitzgerald said a lot of the province’s rotational workers work in places also experiencing problems with coronavirus variants, including B117.

“We certainly cannot take the chance of more introductions of this strain,” she said.

“We’ve had some conversations with our colleagues across the country and we understand that some people may not test positive until after day seven.”

Fitzgerald said the order is unfortunate and hopes to find another solution as time goes on, but, for now, the added restriction is what the province is going to have to do in order to slow the spread.

‘We have to always be ready’

On Saturday morning, Rodney Russell, a professor of immunology at Memorial University, told CBC News that the spike in cases should have been indication of a variant of the virus.

“What was happening this week was clearly different than anything we’ve seen here before, the spread was wildfire basically, and we still don’t know how extensive it is,” he said.

Russell said his biggest concern is that there may be other variants in the mix along with B117, specifically the variant first discovered in South Africa, which he says is harder to neutralize by antibodies and affects the effectiveness of vaccines.

“If one variant can get here, they can all get here, and then we might have viruses that can spread faster and are also harder to deal with by the vaccines,” he said. 

“You really can’t underestimate this. It’s changing, it’s a moving target, it’s a changing enemy and we have to always be ready. We have to double down now, worse than ever, in keeping the virus out of our population.” 

Visitor restrictions at health facilities

Restrictions on visitors at hospitals and other health facilities across the province’s regional health authorities were also put in place Saturday.

Eastern Health issued a media releasing stating it is implementing full visitor restrictions at all health care and long-term care facilities in its jurisdiction.

This means that all in-person visits to patients on hospital wards and residents in long-term care facilities are suspended until further notice.

Eastern Health brought in sweeping restrictions on Saturday to increase safety at its facilities. (CBC)

There are exceptions, Eastern Health said, for pediatric in-patients, labour and delivery patients, palliative care and end-of-life patients and in certain exceptional circumstances, inpatients and residents may be permitted one designated support person or caregiver for the duration of their stay.

Virtual visitation is being recommended by Eastern Health while these restrictions are in place.

Eastern Health is also asking that anyone needing to use emergency rooms or attending health-care appointments to arrive on their own, unless a support person is required. One parent can accompany a child in the emergency department or for other appointments.

Patients should not arrive at appointments more than 10 minutes prior to their scheduled time to reduce the number of people in waiting rooms and allow for physical distancing, Eastern Health said.

Masks will be provided to patients and visitors entering Eastern Health facilities. The provided mask must be worn by all visitors while in the facility.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Coronavirus variant puts N.L. back in lockdown; in-person voting in provincial election suspended

Newfoundland and Labrador is under lockdown, and Saturday’s provincial election will continue with only mail-in voting, officials said Friday, as the province battles the B117 variant of the coronavirus.

In an emergency briefing Friday evening — the second time officials addressed the province in one day — Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the chief medical officer of health, said tests had confirmed the widespread presence of B117  for the first time.

The “variant of concern” is responsible for this week’s mass outbreak in the capital.

Confirmation of the variant’s arrival prompted lockdown measures across the province Friday and has suspended in-person voting in the election, delaying the ballot count by at least two weeks. 

B117 was first discovered in the United Kingdom. It’s believed to be more contagious than the original coronavirus strain.

“We know that if not controlled, it becomes a predominant strain within weeks of first appearance,” Fitzgerald said. “This is concerning and serious. But we have the ability to overcome it.”

Effective immediately, the entire province is at Alert Level 5, with all but essential businesses closed, Fitzgerald announced.

The decision expands previous measures implemented in the St. John’s area this week, returning Newfoundland and Labrador to the same rules it followed for weeks last spring.

COVID-19 testing has spiked this week as Newfoundland and Labrador reports record daily cases. (Submitted by Lisa Warren)

Nine more cases have been added to the active total since the afternoon briefing, Fitzgerald said. Many of them are teenagers with mild or no symptoms.

There are now 269 active cases in the province, with 253 of them reported in the past five days. 

The outbreak has come as a rude awakening for a province that regularly reported active total caseloads in the single digits, and over the summer survived a 42-day stretch without a single active infection.

Most cases, until now, have been linked to travel outside the province.

The province had 390 total cases of COVID-19 in all of 2020.    

Level 5 rules

Fitzgerald said the discovery of the variant answered questions she had about the speed and scope of the virus’s spread. Other provinces are battling the mutation, with experts in Ontario warning B117 could become the dominant strain there before April.

Due to the variant’s contagious nature, Fitzgerald said the speed of isolation measures is critical to contain it.

Residents are now expected to remain inside their own homes as much as possible and restrict gatherings to no more than five people.

All non-essential businesses and facilities, including playgrounds, gyms, salons, cinemas, restaurants, bars, private health-care clinics, and retail stores that do not provide the essentials of life, are now closed.

Elective surgery and non-emergent medical treatments are also suspended.

Watch the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador briefing:

“At this point, stay in your bubble,” Fitzgerald said, simplifying the strict public health directions that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians haven’t faced since last May.

“We’re back here for a little while. I’m hopeful that we won’t have to lock down like we did previously.”

Health Minister John Haggie said vaccine rollout will continue as promptly as possible, but the timeline largely depends on delivery schedules, which have proved spotty throughout the country.

Election day battered by outbreak

Bruce Chaulk, the province’s chief electoral officer, issued a media release immediately after the briefing that he had suspended in-person voting in all 40 districts across the province.

“In-person voting will not be rescheduled,” said Bruce Chaulk in a statement. “The election will now shift exclusively to voting by mail.”

The deadline to apply for mail-in special ballots has been extended to Feb. 15. Voting packages must be received by Elections NL by March 1.

Premier Andrew Furey triggered the Feb. 13 election last month, and has faced rising criticism over his choice of timing. (Paul Daly)

The embattled election hasn’t weathered the outbreak well, with poll workers resigning en masse, delaying election day for the province’s most populated region.

Liberal Leader Andrew Furey, campaigning to reinstate himself in the premier’s chair, has repeatedly come under fire for triggering an election prior to widespread vaccine availability. 

Furey was compelled by law to call an election within a year of taking over as the head of the Liberal Party, with his deadline in August. When he dropped the writ in January, the province had a steadily low caseload.

As the outbreak worsened this week, Furey repeatedly defended his election timing.

“I haven’t given much thought to the election,” Premier Andrew Furey said Friday evening, prior to Chaulk’s announcement and just as news broke of B117’s arrival. “I understand there are questions about the election … but we don’t have the answers.”

Accountability ahead: opponents

Fitzgerald said she has spoken with the province’s chief electoral officer but would not disclose the advice she gave him when pressed during the briefing, saying it’s not her jurisdiction.

Furey’s opponents had been calling for an election delay this week and applauded the decision to move to special ballots. NDP Leader Alison Coffin expressed concern, however, that some people may face barriers in registering for mail-in voting by Monday.

“We may see some court challenges come from this,” Coffin said. “What I’m more concerned about is how irresponsible Andrew Furey’s actions were.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie declined an interview but said in a statement his party would discuss Furey’s election timing “another day,” saying the public health emergency is the priority.

“Our province deserves a thoughtful conversation about why it took so long for us to reach the right decision
in postponing this election and how we hold our political leaders accountable,” the statement read.

Earlier on Friday, officials reported 50 new cases of COVID-19, with the vast majority in the St. John’s metro region. The province has reported higher-than-average new cases since Monday, when rampant community spread was first identified.

Thousands of people are now in isolation, including 300 health-care workers.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot OK to use despite variant questions, WHO panel says

The Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective and should be deployed widely, including in countries where the variant of the coronavirus first identified in South Africa may reduce its efficacy, a World Health Organization panel said on Wednesday.

In interim recommendations on the shot, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) panel said the vaccine should be given in two doses with an interval of eight to 12 weeks, and should also be used in people aged 65 and older.

Even in countries such as South Africa, where questions have been raised about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s efficacy against a newly emerged variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, “there is no reason not to recommend its use,” SAGE’s chair, Alejandro Cravioto, told a briefing.

“We have made a recommendation that even if there is a reduction in the possibility of this vaccine having a full impact in its protection capacity, especially against severe disease, there is no reason not to recommend its use even in countries that have circulation of the variant,” he said.

Health Canada is considering authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than the two mRNA vaccines already approved for use in this country.

AstraZeneca‘s product was also less efficacious (70 per cent) in clinical trials than the Pfizer-BioNTech (95 per cent) and Moderna vaccines (92 per cent) rolling out to Canadians. 

Health Canada “is currently completing its review of the submitted data and expects to make a decision on the authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the coming days,” a spokesperson said in an email on Tuesday. “While the Department collaborates with other regulators, it remains committed to conducting an independent and thorough scientific review of all COVID-19 vaccines.”

South Africa this week paused part of its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after data from a small trial showed it did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the variant of the coronavirus now dominant in the country.

Option for Canada?

Dr. Caroline Quach, chair of Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) that makes recommendations to governments on the use of newly approved vaccines for humans, said AstraZeneca’s vaccine is better than nothing. 

“Let’s say it becomes available in the next two or three weeks when there is no Pfizer or Moderna,” Quach said. “I think people who are healthy and not at risk could benefit entirely.”

The WHO said the preliminary findings from South Africa “highlight the urgent need for a co-ordinated approach for surveillance and evaluation of variants” and their impact on vaccine efficacy.

“The important thing to remember is the AstraZeneca vaccine is an efficacious vaccine,” said Dr. Katherine O’Brien, head of WHO’s immunization department. “It is an important vaccine for the world given the short supply that we have.”

WHO’s expert panel recommendations about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed at Oxford University in Britain, largely mirror those issued earlier by the European Medicines Agency and Britain’s drug regulator.

The AstraZeneca vaccine forms the bulk of the stockpile acquired so far by the UN-backed effort known as COVAX, which aims to deploy coronavirus vaccines to people globally.

COVAX plans to start shipping hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine worldwide later this month, pending WHO approval for the shot, vaccine stocks and countries’ readiness to receive it.

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Quarantine extended up to 24 days for contacts of COVID-19 variant cases, top doc says

Alberta has changed self-isolation rules for those infected with variants of COVID-19, and in some cases people may end up in quarantine for up to 24 days, says the province’s top public health doctor.

The province has now found 50 cases of the virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, and seven of the variant first identified in South Africa, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday at a news conference.

“With 57 cases of variants detected, I know that some may be wondering why we have detected so many,” Hinshaw said. “This is thanks to both the excellent work of our lab to expand variant testing quickly, and to the border pilot program, which has detected 28 of our variant cases.”

Because it can be difficult for people with variants to remain effectively isolated from other household members, health officials are ensuring all new variant cases, and people linked to those cases, are aware of Alberta’s hotel isolation and quarantine options, Hinshaw said. 

“If cases choose to stay home during their isolation period, their household contacts will now need to stay at home as well in quarantine, until 14 days have passed from the end of the case’s isolation period, for a total of 24 days,” she said.

“Given how easily this variant is spreading in homes, this enhancement is necessary to prevent spread in the community.”

All seven cases with the variant first identified in South Africa, and 36 cases of the variant first identified in the U.K., were found in returning travellers, Hinshaw said. Another six cases have been detected in the travellers’ close contacts.

But eight of the 57 cases, found in five different households, have no links to travel yet identified, Hinshaw said.

Investigations are underway to determine the source of those cases, Hinshaw said, though four of them have been linked to an outbreak at a daycare.

Hinshaw wouldn’t say where the daycare is because public health officials are still doing notifications. Not all of the four daycare cases have been tested, so it’s not known how many are linked to variants 

“This link was just identified today, and work is underway to notify parents and staff of this facility that the outbreak at this location may be at least partially caused by a variant strain. This is concerning but it does mean that we have a better chance of controlling spread when we understand the linkages between cases.”

Meanwhile, public health investigations in the cases of returning travellers identified some spread of the virus within those households, Hinshaw said.

In two schools in the Calgary zone, that household spread led to the children of returning travellers attending school while they were infectious. Three classes from those two schools are now self-isolating as a result, she said.

The variants are concerning because of the ease of transmission. Hinshaw has said Alberta health officials are working to track the origin of each case.

The government has announced that some public health restrictions affecting restaurants and gyms are planned to be lifted on Monday. 

Alberta reported 268 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 13 more deaths.

The last time new cases were that low was in mid-October.

The regional breakdown of active cases on Tuesday was:

  • Calgary zone: 2,805
  • Edmonton zone: 2,280
  • North zone: 852
  • Central zone: 655
  • South zone: 300
  • Unknown: 20 

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First case of South African variant confirmed in Ontario as province reports 1,969 cases of COVID-19

The province is reporting its first case of the South African variant of the novel coronavirus, also known as B1351, in Peel Region.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams says the person infected had no history of travel and had no contact with a person who has been out of the country. 

“With the variant, it just tells you, we have to maintain strong vigilance in our measures, strong adherence to our case contact management,” he said Monday during a provincial COVID-19 briefing. But he also said the province is seeing some positive trends.

“We’re encouraged by the data right now; we’re encouraged that maybe our stay-at-home directions and our measures are holding the U.K. variants, and may be some of these other variants, at bay,” Williams said.

Williams says the province has seen a total of 69 confirmed cases of the B117 variant, which was first detected in the U.K. He says the cases are spread out over a number of health units. 

Average case numbers dropping

In her update Monday, the province’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe told reporters the seven day rolling average stands at 1,889 daily cases, which is a drop from previous weeks. 

“Overall, there is reason for some optimism. We are seeing some impacts of this lockdown.”

Ontario is reporting 1,969 cases of COVID-19 Monday and 36 deaths after completing just 30,359 tests in the previous day.

The new cases include 961 in Toronto — which may be an overcount due to a data entry issue, the province noted — 330 in Peel and 128 in York Region.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province has now administered 341,900 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

The province’s latest data shows 1,158 people are hospitalized with the virus, with 354 people in intensive care units. Of those patients, 260 are on ventilators. 

Another 2,132 cases of COVID-19 have been marked as resolved. 

A provincewide stay-at-home order remains in place.

230 LTC homes in outbreak

A total of 230 long-term care homes remain in outbreak, according to the province, with 14,616 resident cases, and 6,020 staff cases. The province says 14 more residents have died after contracting COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths to 3,543 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Roberta Place says 63 people at the home have now died of the virus. There are a 49 active resident cases and 69 active staff cases, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit confirmed on Monday. 

The home is now facing a proposed class-action lawsuit from residents’ families who allege their loved ones were neglected by those charged with keeping them safe.

The unproven statement of claim filed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice alleges Roberta Place, a long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., failed to take basic precautionary measures to protect against the novel coronavirus 10 months after the pandemic took hold in Canada.

School return dates to be announced Wednesday

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says he will announce on Wednesday the dates on which schools will reopen in the province.

“We want all students in all regions back to class,” Lecce said in a tweet on Monday.

Lecce said the chief medical officer of health for Ontario has confirmed to the minister and Premier Doug Ford that he will finalize his advice on the matter on Wednesday.

“The Government will provide certainty parents deserve by announcing on Wednesday the dates for reopening,” Lecce said.

Earlier Monday at a Queen’s Park news conference, Lecce also announced that Ontario is expanding targeted COVID-19 testing and will allow boards to tap into student teachers to fill supply roles as more schools reopen amid the second wave of the pandemic. 

Provincial officials said earlier that the targeted testing will be available in all public health units where students have returned to class. They said they expect that Ontario could be doing up to 25,000 laboratory processed and 25,000 on-site, rapid antigen tests per week. 

The testing will be voluntary and an option for both students and staff, officials said.

In his announcement, Lecce also said he is hopeful but not certain that remaining schools will re-open on February 10. He said local medical officers of health will have a say in whether a given region moves ahead with reopening schools. 

Testing of international travellers begins today at Pearson

International travellers will have to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival in Ontario starting today in a bid to stop contagious new variants of the virus from further infiltrating the province.

The provincial government announced the plan on Friday, the same day the federal government announced a similar program that’s to take effect in the coming weeks.

Premier Doug Ford praised the prime minister for announcing the new federal testing plan, but said Ontario would conduct its own traveller testing until Ottawa’s program begins.

The testing order comes into effect today at Toronto’s Pearson International airport, and will also eventually apply to the province’s land border crossings to the United States.

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