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After back-and-forth week, Quebec signals willingness to play by new rules set by COVID variants

Just over one month ago, amid a lull in Quebec’s COVID-19 infection rates, the province’s leading public health official, Dr. Horacio Arruda, used a colourful metaphor to describe the threat posed by more contagious variants of the virus.

“We are right now in a period of calm seas,” he said. “But underneath there are sharks, and those sharks are the variants.”

Despite the warning, the government decided to authorize swimming in these shark-infested waters.

In the ensuing weeks, rules were relaxed across much of the province. The Quebec City area and the Outaouais were among the regions reclassified as orange zones. Restaurant dining rooms and gyms were reopened. There was hope in the air.

Even in Montreal — a perennial trouble spot — extracurricular school activities and large religious gatherings were permitted again. Older high-school students were told to go back to full-time, in-person classes.

But on Tuesday, Premier François Legault played the role of Chief Brody in the movie Jaws. Get out of the water, he told the province.


Quebec Director of Public Health Horacio Arruda responds to a question during Tuesday’s news conference in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

At a news conference in Montreal, he announced he was cancelling the small freedoms recently granted to residents of the greater Montreal area: gyms will close, extracurriculars will stop, religious services will be capped at 25 people max.

Last week, he announced a series of harsher measures for the Quebec City area and the Outaouais, where cases have grown at exponential rates.

Controlling the variants

Epidemiologists and other health experts had warned the government in March it was making a high-odds bet by lifting measures even though the variants were clearly gaining ground.

The normally staid public health research institute the INSPQ said bluntly on March 26 that the provincial measures in place “were insufficient to control the variants.”

But Arruda, Legault and Health Minister Christian Dubé — le trio, as the francophone press calls them — insisted the moves were justified because hospitalizations were continuing to decrease at the same time as elderly Quebecers were being vaccinated.

In an interview with La Presse last week, Arruda spelled out, with surprising candour, the province’s strategy to a younger journalist.

“If I have 2,000 [new] cases [a day] in Quebec, but we don’t have significant hospitalizations or deaths, we can live with that,” he said.

“Because older people are protected, we will, of course, have people your age who will find themselves in intensive care and die, which is horrible. But is it better if you close everything, and people break the rules in secret?”   

Avoiding Ontario’s fate

At the moment, Quebec is averaging 1,200 cases per day, and so far, hospitalizations haven’t returned to the critical levels seen around Christmas.

Legault said Tuesday he hoped by taking action now, before hospitalizations rise quickly, he can avoid the situation facing Ontario, where intensive care units are hitting capacity and many schools are set to close to in-person learning again.

“It’s a matter of days, or at most, weeks,” he said, before Quebec’s hospital numbers begin to tick upward.

The new measures announced Tuesday, along with those introduced last week, bring more coherence to the government’s message. The added restrictions reflect the danger of a virus that has been turbo-charged by variants.

“It was the right thing to do. We needed to be more proactive,” said Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease specialist at the Université de Montréal health centre, following Legault’s announcement.

“The models showed we risked having an exponential growth in cases if we kept the measures as they were before.”

WATCH | Quebec being ‘proactive’ with new measures, says infectious diseases specialist:

Dr. Cécile Tremblay says by tightening measures and offering up AstraZeneca to people 55 and up, the province is trying to keep the third wave under control. 3:10

But the abrupt pivot — from downplaying the dangers of the third wave to re-imposing lockdown measures — has exposed the government to criticism that its public health approach is haphazard. And there are signs its credibility has been damaged.

On the one hand, the government faced protests last week in several Montreal-area schools where students and parents wanted more, not fewer, public health measures in place.

On the other hand, its flip-flop caused whiplash, bitterness and confusion in and around Quebec City. Over the weekend, police there received more than double their usual number of calls about illegal gatherings.

The new rules

Legault wouldn’t admit he had made a mistake by lifting measures last month. “We won’t stop ourselves from providing freedom when we’re able to do so, or closing things again when it’s necessary,” he said.

Throughout the pandemic, the premier has made clear the government’s priority is protecting the health-care network, as opposed to eliminating the virus outright (which was the stated goal of the Atlantic provinces, for example).

Arruda’s comments to La Presse last week only made it apparent what the trade-offs are.

It is a bargain the public has found reasonable to date. Freedom was maximized for the least vulnerable — school-aged children — and progressively reduced for the most vulnerable, especially the elderly.

WATCH | Youth who toil in grocery stores, cafés and restaurants feel the strain:

As the stress of the pandemic wears on, Quebec’s young adults do the essential work that is often overlooked. 3:54

Some in long-term care homes were effectively confined to their rooms for months on end as the virus circulated widely in the community. In turn, they were first up when vaccines became available.

But the more contagious variants of COVID-19 have upended the terms of the bargain. The old methods for containing transmission are no longer enough to prevent the virus from spreading like wildfire, and vaccines can’t be rolled out fast enough to prevent younger people from ending up in hospital.

With the measures announced over the last week, the Legault government signalled it is no longer just talking about these new realities of the pandemic — it has started to adjust to them as well.

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CBC | Health News

Britain says to ease lockdown next week, will test vaccine passports

Britain’s slow but steady march out of a three-month lockdown remains on track even as coronavirus cases surge elsewhere in Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday, as he confirmed that businesses from barbers to bookstores will be allowed to reopen next week

Johnson said it’s too soon to decide, however, whether U.K. residents will be able to have summer trips abroad. He confirmed that the government will test out a “vaccine passport” system — a way for people to offer proof they have protection from COVID-19 — as a tool to help travel and large events return safely.

Four weeks after England took its first step out of lockdown by reopening schools, Johnson said Britain’s vaccination program was proceeding well and infections were falling. He said the next step would come as planned on April 12, with the reopening of hairdressers, beauty salons, gyms, non-essential shops and bar and restaurant patios. 

“We set out our road map and we’re sticking to it,” Johnson said during a news conference.

But, he added: “We can’t be complacent. We can see the waves of sickness afflicting other countries, and we’ve seen how this story goes.”

A ban on overnight stays away from home in England will also be lifted April 12, and outdoor venues such as zoos and drive-in cinemas can operate again.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following similar but slightly different paths out of lockdown.

Highest death toll in Europe

Britain has recorded almost 127,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe. But infections and deaths both have fallen sharply during the current lockdown and since the start of a vaccination campaign that has given a first dose to more than 31 million people, or six in 10 adults.


People paint red hearts onto the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, on the Embankment in London on April 5, 2021. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

The government aims to give all adults at least one shot of vaccine by July, and hopes that a combination of vaccination and mass testing will allow indoor socializing and large-scale events to return.

It says all adults and children in England will be encouraged to have routine coronavirus tests twice a week as a way to stamp out new outbreaks. The government said free lateral flow tests will be available free starting Friday by mail, from pharmacies and in workplaces. 

Lateral flow tests give results in minutes but are less accurate than the PCR swab tests used to officially confirm cases of COVID-19. But the government insists they are reliable and will help find people who contract the virus but don’t have symptoms.

Britons are currently banned by law from going on holiday abroad under the extraordinary powers Parliament has given the government to fight the pandemic. The government said Monday it won’t lift the travel ban before May 17 — and maybe later.

“The government hopes people will be able to travel to and from the U.K. to take a summer holiday this year, but it is still too soon to know what is possible,” it said in an official update.

Once travel resumes, Britain will rank countries on a traffic-light system as green, yellow or red based on their level of vaccinations, infections and worrying new virus variants. People arriving from “green” countries will have to be tested but won’t face quarantine.

The government also is testing a system of “COVID-status certification” — often dubbed “vaccine passports” — that would allow people seeking to travel or attend events to show they either have received a coronavirus vaccine, tested negative for the virus, or recently had COVID-19 and therefore have some immunity. 

The return of football

A series of events will start this month, including soccer matches, comedy shows and marathon races. The government said the first events will rely only on testing, “but in later pilots vaccination and acquired immunity are expected to be alternative ways to demonstrate status.”


A vial of of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara Sikh temple, on the day the first Vaisakhi Vaccine Clinic is launched, in Luton, England, on March 21, 2021. (Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press)

The issue of vaccine passports has been hotly debated around the world, raising questions about how much governments, employers and venues have a right to know about a person’s virus status. The idea is opposed by a wide swath of British lawmakers, from left-of-center opposition politicians to members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, and the policy could face stiff opposition when it is put before Parliament later this month.

Conservative legislator Graham Brady said vaccine passports would be “intrusive, costly and unnecessary.” The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, called the idea “un-British.”

The government said vaccine passports were all but unavoidable, since many countries were certain to demand proof of COVID-19 status for entry.

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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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Canada won’t receive any Pfizer shots next week — here’s what you need to know about the vaccination campaign

Canada’s vaccination campaign is off to a slow start — and news this week that deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech product will be reduced dramatically over the next month has further complicated the national rollout.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), has said Pfizer will not ship a single vial of its highly effective vaccine to Canada next week as the pharmaceutical giant retools its production facility in Puurs, Belgium to boost capacity.

The announcement is already prompting some provinces to warn that they will have to curtail appointments in the weeks ahead as they direct the existing supply of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to patients who need their second shots.

Why is Canada getting less vaccine than anticipated?

Pfizer is grappling with unprecedented global demand for its vaccine as the world scrambles to inoculate patients against the deadly novel coronavirus.

While the company had projected it could manufacture up to 1.3 billion shots this year alone, it is now shifting gears to pump out even more.

The company is making upgrades to its Belgian plant so that it can manufacture up to 2 billion doses this year to meet the insatiable demand. In order to complete those upgrades, some production lines will have to be idled and Pfizer won’t have enough vials to go around in the short term to meet its previously promised delivery schedule.

“Pfizer and BioNTech are working relentlessly to support the further rollout of the vaccination campaigns worldwide by not only expanding their own manufacturing capacities but also by adding further suppliers as well as contract manufacturers to increase total manufacturing capacity,” the company said in a news release announcing the disruptions.


A driver pulls his truck out of the Pfizer plant in Puurs, Belgium on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Valentin Bianchi/AP Photo)

Fortin has said that, starting next week, Canada’s deliveries will be reduced by up to 50 per cent over a four-week period, punting as many as 400,000 doses to a later date.

While the company has another manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Mich., the Belgian plant alone is supplying Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom. U.S. deliveries will continue uninterrupted.

Will Canada, the EU and the United Kingdom be equally affected by these disruptions?

No. Announcing the delays last week, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said she expects Pfizer will treat all countries equally as it reduces shipments with an eye to restoring service in February.

But Pfizer isn’t treating every customer the same way. While Canada will receive zero doses next week, the company said it “will be back to the original schedule of deliveries to the European Union beginning the week of January 25.”

Pfizer has promised the EU that it will then “increase delivery beginning week of February 15, resulting in our ability to deliver the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter and significantly more in the second quarter.”


Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand and Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin look on as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 7, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

When asked why Pfizer will not make the same commitment to Canada, Anand said that she expects the company to treat all countries equitably — but could not say why Canada has been singled out.

“This was very disappointing and I spent the weekend on the phone with Pfizer executives and my team. We reiterated firmly the importance for Canada to return to our regular delivery schedule as soon as possible,” she said at a press conference Tuesday.

Pfizer did not respond to specific questions about why it is showing more favourable treatment to the EU. In an emailed statement, the company said the details of its agreements with governments are “confidential.”

“Multiple countries around the world will be impacted in the short term in order for us to quickly enable increased production volumes afterwards,” the spokesperson said. 

The U.K. delivery schedule is less clear. The government there has said it is “in close contact” with all suppliers so that it can achieve its target of immunizing all those over age 70 by February 15.

So how many doses will Canada receive over the next number of weeks?

It’s hard to say for sure. Fortin had said Canada would see a 75 per cent drop next week in deliveries — but then had to correct that forecast after learning Canada wouldn’t receive a single dose.

Just last week, Fortin had been expecting delivery of 208,650 doses to the provinces every week for the rest of this month. Fortin also said Canada is expected to receive 366,000 Pfizer doses per week in February.

Speaking to the press this week, Fortin conceded those numbers are no longer accurate.

“Those numbers remain to be confirmed by Pfizer Canada. In fact, we have regular conversations with them and we hope and we expect to have clarity on those numbers,” Fortin told reporters at a public health briefing.

Is Canada still on track to get 4 million doses of the Pfizer product by the end of March?

The government has said yes. While the deliveries may change, the government insists its medium-term targets are more certain.

By the end of the first quarter, Canada is expecting four million doses from Pfizer and another two million doses from Moderna — enough to vaccinate some 3 million Canadians with these two-dose products.

WATCH | Canada affected by Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine production delay in Europe:

Federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand made the announcement to reporters in Ottawa on Friday. 2:38

But these delays mean that many people will be kept waiting much longer for shots than they originally anticipated. While deliveries might return to a more normal flow, it will be difficult for provinces to pump through hundreds of thousands of patients in a short timeframe to reach vaccination targets.

The delivery hiccup also could push off the vaccination campaign for the general population, which had a start date of April 1.

Pharmacies have said they could vaccinate as many 2.5 million people per week if all 11,500 community pharmacies in this country are mobilized, but the lack of supply has delayed their participation in the effort.

Data released by PHAC Thursday suggest 10 million more people could be fully vaccinated between April and June, for a cumulative total of 13 million people inoculated since the start of the campaign.

And if other vaccines apart from the Pfizer and Moderna products are approved over that time period, 10 million more patients could complete the vaccine regime by the end of June, for a combined total of 23 million.

The PHAC data also suggest that 36 million Canadians can be vaccinated by the end of September, if all goes well and there aren’t any significant delivery disruptions in the interim.

What is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doing about this Pfizer delay?

While the prime minister of Israel has had more than a dozen calls with the CEO of Pfizer, and the president of the European Union has personally reached out to the company’s leadership, Trudeau has said that Anand is the lead on this file.

“I can assure you that Minister Anand is talking almost daily with Pfizer and the other vaccine companies to ensure that we get as many doses as possible, as quickly as possible, and that work will continue,” he said. “We will not rest, we will not slow down.”


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, second left, attend the arrival of plane with a shipment of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines at Ben Gurion Airport, near the city of Lod, Israel, on Jan. 10, 2021. (Motti Millrod/AP Photo)

When pressed by Vassy Kapelos, host of CBC’s Power & Politics, to state whether Trudeau has personally contacted Pfizer to ask for more doses, Anand would only say that she has been in “close communication” with the prime minister.

Some observers have said Trudeau should ask U.S. President Joe Biden to temporarily float Canada some vaccines from the Michigan plant as a sign of goodwill — especially after Biden rescinded the presidential permits for the Keystone XL pipeline.

So how are the provinces reacting to all this?

Not well. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said the delivery delays will be very disruptive. The province also has said the temporary stoppage could mean its goal of immunizing all long-term care residents in the province by Feb. 15 won’t be achieved.

“If I was in (Trudeau’s) shoes … I’d be on that phone call every single day. I’d be up that guy’s yin-yang so far with a firecracker he wouldn’t know what hit him,” he said of Pfizer’s executives. “I would not stop until we get these vaccines.”

On Wednesday, Ford called Pfizer Canada President Cole Pinnow to discuss the situation.

“He reiterated the serious impact these cancelled shipments will have on Ontario and sought answers as to why Canada isn’t receiving vaccines as quickly as other countries,” Ford’s office said in a media statement after the call.

Ford also has suggested Biden should “help out its neighbour” by releasing some shots to Canada.


Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday the province is putting a temporary hold on the first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations to ensure it has enough vaccine to provide a second dose to people who have already received their first shot.

“By pausing first appointments, we can ensure enough vaccine is allocated for committed second-dose appointments,” Kenney said.

How is Canada doing compared to the rest of the world?

Canada has administered some 700,000 shots – roughly 1.7 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna products. In Ontario, about 40,000 people have been fully vaccinated against the virus.

The United States has vaccinated three times more people per capita than Canada.

The U.K., too, has been a world leader in getting shots into the arms of patients. Nearly 7.5 per cent of the British and Northern Irish population has so far received at least one dose.

Canada’s vaccination effort has also been outpaced to date by those in Bahrain, Denmark, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

But according to the latest data collated by the University of Oxford-based Our World in Data, Canada has administered more shots per capita than G7 partners like Germany and France, and middle-income countries like Argentina and Costa Rica.

“I had a lovely conversation with Angela Merkel yesterday morning in which she sort of complained to me that every day she gets it from the German media that they’re not doing as well as Canada,” Trudeau told reporters Tuesday.

“I think a lot of people are comparing stories from country to country and trying to figure out how we can all move quicker.”

The EU authorized the Moderna product for use two weeks after Health Canada regulators gave that vaccine the necessary approvals, which could account for the slower start to vaccination campaigns in countries like Germany.

What about the other promising vaccine candidates?

Health Canada regulators are still reviewing clinical trial data for both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson products. Canada has placed orders for doses from these companies but a delivery schedule is far from certain, given that the regulatory review is still underway.

The U.K. approved the AstraZeneca vaccine on Dec. 30.

The product from Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, has not been approved for use anywhere in the world. Some countries are eager to secure doses of this vaccine because it only requires one shot.

The company has not yet presented publicly any final data on its effectiveness, although some early results, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, are promising.

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Canada to receive one million COVID-19 vaccine doses a week starting in April: general

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine logistics, said today that manufacturers are expected to deliver up to one million doses a week starting in April.

In the spring, Fortin said, the country will shift from phase one of the vaccine rollout — immunizing particularly vulnerable people, such as long-term care home residents, some Indigenous adults and health care providers — to a wider rollout as deliveries become larger and more frequent.

The Canadian immunization campaign has gotten off to a slow start. A month into the inoculation efforts, barely one per cent of the population has received at least one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna products. Only 710,000 doses have been delivered to the provinces and territories.

The federal government is expecting up to six million doses — enough for three million people to be fully vaccinated using the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose products — by the end of March. But Fortin conceded Thursday the government is still negotiating a delivery schedule.

“We have a scarcity of vaccines in the first quarter,” Fortin said. April will mark the start of the what he’s calling the “ramp-up phase.”

The prospect of a million doses a week will be welcome news to provincial leaders who have been demanding more vaccine supply as COVID-19 cases spike.

While the vaccination campaign got off to a slow start, some provinces, notably Ontario and Quebec, have been fine-tuning their processes to administer doses faster.

“We have been sharing data with provinces and territories who, of course, understandably want more vaccines as they ramp up their vaccination programs. The challenge is we have limited quantities,” Fortin said. “The rub is right now … there’s perhaps a disappointment with the relatively small numbers that are being distributed,” Fortin said.

Other provinces are laggards. Tens of thousands of the doses the federal government has so far shipped are sitting in freezers. Manitoba and Nova Scotia have been particularly slow out of the gate, using less than half of the shots they have received.

According to CBC’s vaccine tracker, 419,209 doses have been administered so far.

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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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SpaceX Plans High-Altitude Starship Test Next Week

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SpaceX is preparing for the next major milestone in the development of its next-gen Starship spacecraft. Following a successful static fire test this week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced on Twitter that the company wants to perform a high-altitude test flight as early as next week. 

The Starship started its life as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) but now consists of the Starship and a heavy lift stage called Super Heavy. All the work SpaceX is doing right now is for the Starship itself, which is arguably the more important of the two components. The Starship will be able to land on and take off from places like the moon and Mars without Super Heavy. However, for Earth launches destined for the moon and beyond, SpaceX will need the Super Heavy. 

Thus far, SpaceX has conducted numerous engine tests, both static fire and in-flight. It started with the “Starhopper” prototype with a single Raptor engine. Later, it built full-scale versions of the Starship with a single Raptor but without the nose section. That made it look a bit like a flying grain silo, but that was a step up from the flying water tower Starhopper. 

The latest SN8 prototype looks more like a real rocket, and it has a trio of Raptor engines (the final version will have six). The static fire test (see below) went perfectly, and the company is now planning the first high-altitude test. According to a recent tweet from Elon Musk (it’s always a tweet) SpaceX plans to launch next week. The Starship will fly up to about 50,000 feet (15 kilometers) to test the engines, body flaps, and fuel tanks. Following the test, the Starship will descend and land (hopefully) in one piece. Locals near SpaceX’s Boca Chica testing facility have been alerted to a possible launch on Monday, November 30, so that’s probably it barring weather issues. 

Eventually, SpaceX hopes to replace the Falcon 9 with the Starship for all missions. Although, it took years for the Falcon 9 to get certification to carry passengers, and the Starship is still in development. Whenever it’s ready for flight, SpaceX has committed to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on a trip around the moon. The projected 2023 launch date for that mission is probably very optimistic, but that’s par for the course with the Starship. Musk has also talked about using the vehicle to plant a human colony on Mars as soon as the mid-2020s. Most experts agree it’s unlikely you could safely send humans to Mars so soon, even if the Starship is finished on schedule.

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Tanenbaum focused on COVID-19 research, expects NHL hub city decision this week

Philanthropist and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum, alongside his wife Judy, are donating $ 1 million to fuel COVID-19 research at Sinai Health’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute (LTRI) located in Toronto.

And Larry wants to see that number grow to $ 2 million.

“Anyone who wants to invest in COVID-19 research, for every dollar they give, Judy and I will match it up to $ 1 million. Hopefully we can raise $ 2 million,” he said.

Tanenbaum’s business, philanthropy and sports worlds are colliding as he navigates the pandemic. He says his days are filled with conference calls and Zoom meetings, all focused around COVID-19, how to return to sports in a safe way and how to advance the research going into testing and finding a vaccine.

“Sports needs science in trying to find the answers, whether that’s a vaccine or testing. Whatever it is, the questions are still out there. Our focus is how do you conquer this COVID-19 virus,” Tanenbaum said.

The LTRI ranks in the top one per cent of global academic institutions in molecular and cell biology. A number of the researchers there are on the front lines of discovering how best to identify and treat COVID-19, including looking at how the virus spreads and exploring new drug therapies.

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Tanenbaum wants to make sure their research continues and knows how important funding is in making sure that happens.

“The need is there. Unfortunately, what is happening is funding for so many of these research institutes in Canada, they don’t get direct government support,” Tanenbaum told CBC Sports.

“They rely on funding competitions and private donations. The funding competitions have been either cut or cancelled for much of the research. There’s a real gap on stable funding.”

Tanenbaum is especially optimistic about research being done by Jeff Wrana, a senior investigator at LTRI. Wrana is using a robotics lab to develop a mass scale COVID-19 blood test.

“He can test up to 10,000 samples at once through this robotic technology. The key to this thing is testing,” Tanenbaum said.

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Tanenbaum says he wants to help researchers and doctors stay on the leaning edge of dealing with COVID-19 because there are still so many unknowns.

“It’s frightening. The virus has not changed. Our behaviours have changed though,” he said.

He’s also trying to do his part to support the people on the front line.

In April, MLSE turned Scotiabank Arena into a massive kitchen. Tanenbaum says they’re averaging about 13,000 meals per day. As of last Friday, more than 300,000 meals had been made for front line workers.

“I’m so proud of our people for doing this. They’ve gone above and beyond. They’ve mobilized from different departments to work on the food line.

What does it mean for sports?

All of this is happening in the backdrop of a number of leagues planning to make their return to play.

Tanenbaum says he’s confident the bubbles set up in Florida for both Major League Soccer and the NBA, where Toronto FC and the Raptors will play, will work despite cases spiking in the state.

“The determining factor in playing is that ability to hold the bubble,” he said. “We’re all sort of playing it on a day-to-day basis.”

While many leagues have already determined what locations they’ll play in, the NHL has yet to announce its two hub city locations.


Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chair Larry Tanenbaum, left, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman enter the Westin Times Square Hotel in 2012. Tanenbaum believes the league will choose its hub city locations “within the next 48 hours.” (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Tanenbaum says he supports the NHL playing out of two Canadian locations – and is hopeful Toronto is one of them.

“We should hear within the next 48 hours. I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed. It’s the most logical thing to do but unfortunately I am not in charge of that decision,” Tanenbaum said.

While getting back to fields and arenas is important to Tanenbaum, keeping his family, staff, players and coaching personnel safe continues to be the priority amidst the pandemic.

“Quite honestly, if it’s Auston Matthews or your parents or co-workers or my children or grandchildren, we’re all part of the same team that needs to fight against COVID-19,” Tanenbaum said.

Combating racism

He’s trying to help lead the fight against racism too.

Tanenbaum says it’s “in my DNA to combat discrimination” or any type of inequality. He was part of a Toronto Raptors video at the beginning of June, promising concrete action to address racism.


“Social justice is a huge part of my being,” he said.

“I work in the Indigenous communities. These are people who are discriminated against. There’s racial bias. Their level of health care and education is substandard, well below what should be acceptable in our country.”

Tanenbaum says there are a number of initiatives he’ll continue to support and be involved with, including Right to Play, a program that empowers children through sport.

“We’ve always been in front of building a socially just society here,” Tanenbaum said.

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