COVID-19 Tracker: Canadian Nurse Group Plans Silent Protest Against Vaccine Mandates; Worry About Fourth Wave Increasing Among Canadians, Poll Suggests


What you need to know about COVID-19 in Canada as the global pandemic continues. Photo: Addictive Stock / Niccolo Pontigia / GettyImages

Sept. 13, 2021

Anti-vax, Anti-Passport, Anti-Mandate Protestors Plan Demonstrations Today

Hospitals across the country are preparing for a day of protest on Monday as demonstrations may hamper access to health-care facilities, reports CityNews.

The group Canadian Frontline Nurses is planning what it calls a silent protest against mandates in all 10 provinces. Prospective locations include the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, Toronto General Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

A post on social media asks demonstrators to keep any signs away from the vaccine narrative, focusing instead on pro-choice and against mandates. Toronto ICU physician Dr. Michael Warner says in a tweet that while people are entitled to make their voices heard, his hope is that the authorities will not tolerate any form of harassment.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the protests “selfish, cowardly and reckless.” However, he stopped short of announcing any measures to try and stop them.

Quebec Sees 711 Rolling Average of New Cases, Highest Since Mid-May

The seven-day rolling average for new infections now stands at 711, reports the Montreal Gazette. Until this weekend, the province’s rolling average had not exceeded 700 since mid-May, when the third wave was in decline.
The province’s death toll remains 11,304 with no new fatalities attributed to the virus.

Over the last four weeks, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé noted on Twitter, 113 of the 135 people admitted to intensive care for COVID-19 were not fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 600 new cases of COVID-19 today with 475 cases in people who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status, while 125 are in fully vaccinated individuals.

New Poll: Canadians More Worried About Fourth Wave

A new poll released today suggests Canadians are growing increasingly worried about the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and potential lockdowns to limit its spread — but experts say the country has the ability to prevent such stringent measures.

The Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found 71 per cent of those surveyed are worried about the fourth wave, up two points from July. Even more Canadians are worried about new variants of the virus threatening a return to normal, growing by seven points over two months to 88 per cent.

Those rising fears have also coincided with dwindling acceptance of lockdowns to stem the fourth wave. While 63 per cent of those surveyed said they would support a lockdown, that’s six points down from 69 per cent in July.
The poll also suggests that a growing number of Canadians think we should simply learn to live with active COVID-19 cases as a fact of life — particularly as vaccinations lower the risk of severe infection. Seventy per cent of those surveyed said they felt this way, up three points from July.

Just over half of respondents went a step further, saying the spread of less serious cases would be a welcome trade-off for returning to a semblance of normal.

England’s Vaccine Passport Plans Ditched

Plans to introduce vaccine passports for access to nightclubs and large events in England will not go ahead, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC on Sunday.

He said the government had looked at the evidence, adding: “I’m pleased to say we will not be going ahead.”

It was thought the plan, which came under criticism from venues and some MPs, would be introduced at the end of this month.

Instead, it will be kept “in reserve,” should it be needed over autumn or winter.
Under the scheme, people would have been required to show proof — whether of double vaccination, a negative COVID test or finishing self-isolating after a positive PCR test — in order to gain entry to clubs and other crowded events.
“We just shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of it or because others are doing, and we should look at every possible intervention properly,” Javid said.
“I’ve never liked the idea of saying to people you must show your papers or something to do what is just an everyday activity, but we were right to properly look at it.

Javid said vaccine passports were not needed because of other things in the “wall of defence” including high vaccine uptake, testing, surveillance and new treatments. In the interview, he also said he wanted to “get rid” of PCR tests for travel.

Meanwhile, Scotland is taking a different approach to England. They will bring in a vaccine passport for entry to nightclubs and many large events from Oct. 1.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 10, 2021

Alberta Clearing Hospital Beds for More COVID-19 Patients as Fourth Wave Surges

Alberta will move patients out of acute-care hospital beds to make room for others sick with COVID-19, health minister Tyler Shandro announced Thursday.

The province reported 1,510 new cases on Thursday, breaking the 1,500-new infection mark for the first time since May.

Patients who are moved out of hospitals will be taken care of at home and in facility-based continuing care, Shandro told a news conference. The province will provide up to $36 million in new funding to improve wages and create additional workforce capacity to allow more Albertans to receive care outside of hospitals, Shandro also said.

More than 400 Albertans are waiting in hospitals to move into continuing care facilities, with others waiting to return to their homes.

Pfizer-BioNTech Requesting Approval for Kids in Coming Weeks

BioNTech is set to request approval across the globe to use its COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as five over the next few weeks, reports Reuters. Preparations for a launch are on track, the biotech firm’s two top executives told Der Spiegel.

“Already over the next few weeks we will file the results of our trial in five to 11 year olds with regulators across the world and will request approval of the vaccine in this age group, also here in Europe,” Chief Medical Officer Oezlem Tuereci told the news weekly.

The confident statements underscore the lead that BioNTech, which collaborates with Pfizer holds in the race to win broad approval to vaccinate children below the age of 12 in Western countries. BioNTech has said it expected to file its regulatory dossier on the five to 11 year olds in September. It has also laid out plans to seek approval in children aged six months to two years later this year.

Tuereci also told Spiegel that final production steps were being adjusted to bottle a lower-dose pediatric version of its established Comirnaty vaccine. It is currently approved for adults and youngsters at least 12 years of age. The raw trial data was now being prepared for a regulatory filing and “things are looking good, everything is going according to plan,” Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told Der Spiegel.

All COVID-19 Patients Under the Age 50 in British Columbia’s ICUs Are Unvaccinated

The vast majority of people who are battling COVID-19 in B.C.’s intensive care units are not fully vaccinated against the disease, and that’s especially true of the younger people who develop serious illness, reports CTV News.

Provincial health minister Adrian Dix shared the demographics of B.C.’s ICU population at a news conference on Thursday.

Dix said there are 130 people in intensive care in the province as of Thursday. Of those 130, Dix said, 111 are unvaccinated, 10 are partially vaccinated and nine are fully vaccinated.

Moreover, no one under the age of 50 who is in a B.C. ICU right now is fully vaccinated, Dix said. That group accounts for roughly one-quarter of coronavirus patients in intensive care. Older people account for a larger portion of those hospitalized with COVID-19. Even so, those who are unvaccinated make up most of the ICU cases among B.C. residents age 50 and older.

Biden Goes Big on Vaccine Mandate, Says Patience “Wearing Thin”

 U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging Delta variant that is killing thousands each week and jeopardizing the nation’s economic recovery, reports CTV News.

In an address from the White House, Biden urged the 80 million Americans who are eligible but remain unvaccinated to get the shot. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us,” he said.

The new rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden is also signing an executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test instead. That covers several million more workers.

Japan COVID State of Emergency Extended

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday announced an extension of a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and 18 other areas until the end of September, saying health-care systems remain under severe strain, and that the continuing challenges of fighting the virus had led to his decision not to seek another term.

The state of emergency, which was to end on Sunday, was issued first in Okinawa in May and gradually expanded and extended as the country prepared to host the Olympics. “We’ve had trouble securing hospital capacity and that’s my regret,” Suga said.

—Judy Gerstel

Sept. 9, 2021

Experts Still Not Sure Booster Shots Are Needed for General Population in Canada

Canada has not yet released a third dose plan, even though some countries, including Israel, the U.S and the U.K., are already committed to providing third COVID-19 booster shots to their populations. Some experts say it’s still too early to tell if a booster is necessary for the general population, according to CTV News.

However, Quebec is offering booster shots for the immunocompromised and for travellers whose mixed dosing isn’t recognized in other countries. While Alberta and Ontario are also rolling out third shots for eligible immunocompromised populations.

“The answer is: we don’t know for sure yet,” Rodney Russell, immunology and virology professor at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, told about the value of a third shot.

What virologists and immunologists do know is that older and at-risk populations tend to have a worse response to vaccines, and not just COVID-19 vaccines, he added. “We’ve known for years that older people don’t respond well to vaccines.”

COVID Rates all Over the Place

While Ontario reported fewer than 600 new cases of COVID-19 for the third straight day on Wednesday, after the Labour Day weekend, that number rose to 798 today, the first day of school in Toronto.

British Columbia reported 814 new cases yesterday but, significantly, no additional deaths.

Meanwhile, Alberta reported 1,166 new cases Wednesday and 18 new deaths — the most reported on one day in several months. The new cases in Alberta were detected in 10,687 tests, with a positivity rate of 11.48 per cent. In Calgary, all elective surgeries are being cancelled and rescheduled as hospitals deal with the surge of COVID-19 patients.

Nova Scotia reported 14 new cases on Wednesday. Modelling released yesterday predicts a surge of COVID-19 cases this fall in Atlantic Canada.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome May be “Very Rare” Side Effect of AstraZeneca

Europe’s medicines regulator has added an extremely rare nerve-damaging disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), as a possible side effect of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19  vaccine, regular safety updates from the watchdog showed on Wednesday, according to Reuters news agency.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said a causal relationship between GBS and the AstraZeneca shot, known in Europe as Vaxzevria, was “at least a reasonable possibility” after 833 cases of GBS were reported out of 592 million doses of the vaccine given worldwide by July 31.

The EMA categorized the side effect as “very rare,” the lowest frequency of side effect category it has, and has emphasized that the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.

COVID Treatment in Hospital Triple That for Heart Attack

The average cost per hospitalization for a COVID patient in Canada is estimated to be $23,000, according to new data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information. That price tag goes for both ICU and non-ICU patients, reports CTV News. By comparison, it is three times higher than the average cost of someone hospitalized for a heart attack, $8,000, and almost as costly as it is to hospitalize a kidney transplant patient, $27,000.

Vaccine Mandate for U.S. Federal Workers and Contractors on the Way

U.S. President Joe Biden will announce today a new executive order requiring vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors that do business with the federal government, according to a person familiar with the matter. The president’s speech Thursday afternoon is expected to outline a six-pronged plan to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots in the U.S.

Brits Get Whopping Tax Increase to Fund Post-Pandemic Health and Elder Care

Britain’s tax burden will rise to its highest level in 70 years to fund health and elder care, according to the Times of London.

Every worker, including working pensioners, will pay a 1.25 per cent tax on their earnings as part of a “health and care levy.” It will become the first significant new tax since the Value Added Tax was introduced half a century ago.

There will also be an additional tax of 1.25 per cent on dividends from share holdings, taking the rate of dividend tax on higher-rate taxpayers to 33 per cent.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s election manifesto committed to not raising taxes, he hopes it will be regarded as necessary to support the National Health Service after the pandemic, and to solve an elder care crisis that has defeated governments for decades, reports the Times.

The social care reform includes caps on the cost that an individual will have to spend on long-term care. Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer, said a rise in general taxation was the only way to get the sums needed to pay for a universal health service free at the point of use.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 8, 2021

Quebec to Health Workers: Get the Shot or Lose Pay

Health workers in Quebec not fully vaccinated by Oct. 15 will be suspended without pay..

That message was sent on Tuesday to all workers in Quebec public and private health facilities, whether they deal directly with patients or not, reports the Montreal Gazette. As of Oct. 15, they will all have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or they’ll lose their salaries, Health Minister Christian Dubé told a press conference.

The province announced it planned to institute the vaccine mandate for health workers last month. Initially, the government said the vaccine mandate would only apply to workers who were in contact with patients for 15 minutes or more.

British Columbia’s “Vaccine Passport” System Launched

Details of B.C.’s so-called “vaccine passport” system have been revealed by health officials, and residents of the province are asked to sign up online.

The website, which launched yesterday morning, asks for a resident’s personal health number, date of birth and date of COVID-19 vaccine. Those who already use the B.C. Services Card app can alternately log in that way.

The vaccine card system is set to begin Sept. 13, at which time visitors to non-essential businesses, such as restaurants and movie theatres, will need at least one dose to enter.

The health ministry said there will be a transition period up to and including Sept. 26, during which time vaccinated individuals can obtain their card. Paper records from vaccine clinics will be accepted as proof of vaccine during this time. By Oct. 24, they’ll need to have both doses, and won’t be considered fully vaccinated for seven days after the second shot.

Also yesterday, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey announced the introduction of a vaccination passport that will use a QR code to show a person’s level of vaccination against COVID-19. The province reported five new confirmed cases of COVID-19. He said the province has looked at what is being done in other jurisdictions and chosen to model its vaccine passport system on the one that took effect in Quebec Sept. 1.

COVID Patients in U.S. Hospitals Tripled From Last Year

Nearly 300 per cent more COVID patients were in U.S. hospitals over this Labour Day weekend than a year ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

And the average number of deaths was more than 86 per cent higher than the same period last year as Delta variant continues to spread, reports The Guardian.

In Idaho, public health leaders announced Tuesday that they activated “crisis standards of care” allowing health care rationing for the state’s northern hospitals because there are more coronavirus patients than the institutions can handle. They warned that residents may not get the care they would normally expect if they need to be hospitalized. Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S. The move allows hospitals to allot scarce resources, like intensive care unit rooms, to patients most likely to survive and make other dramatic changes to the way they treat patients, according to NBC News.

Europe Split Between Vaccinated and Unvaccinated

More than 70 per cent of the European Union’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, making it one of the world’s vaccination leaders, reports the New York Times. But vaccination rates in Eastern and Central Europe are all below that average, exposing the bloc to new waves of infections and creating a divide that EU officials and experts say could hamper recovery efforts.

While 80 per cent of the adult populations in countries like Belgium, Denmark and Portugal have been fully vaccinated, European data shows that the figure plunges to about 32 per cent in Romania and about 20 per cent in Bulgaria, where deaths have been surging.

Those countries, along with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, have had some of the highest excess mortality rates across the EU during the pandemic. And inoculation rates have fallen broadly in recent weeks, particularly in countries like Poland and Slovakia.

Rich Countries “No Longer Need” to Hoard Vaccines

An international drugmakers’ organization has said that supply now equals demand for vaccines globally.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said on Tuesday that drugmakers are producing about 1.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses a month, reports Deutsche Welle.

IFPMA Director-General Thomas Cueni said 7.5 billion doses have been produced so far and cited projections from an independent adviser that 12 billion doses would be available worldwide by the end of the year.

This means that rich nations “no longer need” to stockpile vaccines, he said. That has been a major factor in contributing to vaccine inequality around the world. Stockpiling also hinders the end of the pandemic, as new variants could crop up in areas where vaccine access is low.

Separately, data firm Airfinity published a study showing vaccine supply was about to equal global demand, particularly if the EU, U.S., U.K., and Canada donate 500 million excess doses they currently hold to poorer nations.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 7, 2021

Canada Welcomes the (Fully Vaccinated) World Today

Beginning today, international tourism comes alive and well (we hope) in Canada. Asymptomatic travellers admissible to the country can now enter for non-essential reasons. But there are strict requirements: they must have received, and show proof of, the full series of a vaccine — or combination of vaccines — accepted by the Government of Canada at least 14 days prior to entering Canada. Currently, those vaccines are manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson).

They also must have  a valid pre-arrival COVID-19 molecular test result taken no more than 72 hours before their scheduled flight or their arrival at the land border crossing, or a previous positive test result taken between 14 and 180 days before departure to Canada.  Antigen tests, often called “rapid tests,” are not accepted. They must submit their mandatory information via ArriveCAN (App or website), including proof of vaccination in English or French and a quarantine plan. And they must take a test on arrival, if selected.

COVID Cases Recorded in U.S. Surpass Canada’s Total Population

As of today, more than 40 million cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in the United States, according to a New York Times database. The total number of known infections, more than the population of Canada, is evidence of the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and the United States’ patchwork efforts to rein it in, according to the Times.

Only 53 per cent of Americans are fully vaccinated. Health officials say that most of the patients who are being hospitalized and dying are not vaccinated, and that it is those unvaccinated people who are driving the current surge and burdening the health care system.

Tough-Talking Trudeau Vows Not to Bow to “Anti-Vaxxer Mobs”

During a Labour Day campaign event in London, Ont., protesters threw gravel at the Liberal Leader as he boarded his campaign bus. Asked later whether he was struck, Trudeau told reporters he thought “a little bit of gravel” hit him. In Welland, Ont., yesterday, Trudeau said he “can’t back down” when faced with aggressive protesters.

“Yes, there is a small fringe element in this country that is angry, that doesn’t believe in science, that is lashing out with racist, misogynistic attacks,” Trudeau said. He also said that a re-elected Liberal government would introduce protections for businesses targeted by anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown activists.

Rush-Hour Traffic Resumes in England as COVID Rates Climb

In England rush-hour traffic returned to pre-pandemic levels in parts of the country yesterday as the end of home working and the start of the new school term led to a rise in congestion, reports the Times of London.

Figures showed that roads in London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Liverpool were as busy as they were in 2019.  Transport for London confirmed that yesterday morning was the busiest on the Tube for 18 months, since before the first lockdown. The use of buses is also on the rise, with passenger numbers jumping by 71 per cent in a week. Commuters on other parts of the national rail network also told of crowded trains, with complaints of large numbers of travellers failing to wear masks. The rise in rush-hour traffic follows repeated government advice for people to return to work.

Meanwhile, the U.K. led the world in new COVID cases yesterday with 41, 192 recorded. The U.S. followed with 39,644 new cases.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 3, 2021

Vaccine Passport Goes Into Effect in Manitoba

Vaccine passports come into effect in Manitoba today — the second province to put the measure in place — with proof of vaccination against COVID-19 now required at a range of non-essential businesses, including restaurants, food courts, bars, bingo halls, gyms, museums and movie theatres.

“This is not a short-term measure, this proof of vaccination status,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Thursday.

“We’re just at the beginning of our fourth wave, and we’re going to be seeing a return to a lot of indoor activities as the weather starts changing in the fall, so we need to plan that these requirements will be in place for quite some time, so don’t delay your vaccine appointment.”

And after the long weekend, the limit on outdoor gatherings will be reduced to 500, from 1,500, Roussin announced yesterday, as part of strengthening public health measures in the province, which included a mask mandate for indoor public settings that was reinstated last week.

Support of Vaccine Passports Lowest in Sask., and Man.

A new poll by Leger would suggest that support of a vaccine passport by residents in Saskatchewan and Manitoba is lowest in Canada, at 74 per cent — with 48 per cent saying they strongly support it and 26 per cent saying they somewhat support it.

Incidentally, the proportion of eligible residents that have already received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Manitoba, where a proof of vaccination system went live today, outpaces — albeit slightly — those who support passports, at 82.3 per cent, according to the province’s tracking.

Meanwhile, the Leger poll suggests that 80 per cent Canadians back vaccine passports, with 56 per cent of respondents saying they strongly support one being introduced in their own province and 25 per cent “somewhat” on board with the idea.

Again, that number is lower than the proportion of eligible Canadians who have already gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which as of Friday morning was 84.4 per cent according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada.

However, the proportion of eligible Canadians yet to get one dose, a little more than 15 per cent, isn’t far from those who, when asked this past weekend, said they strongly oppose vaccine passports, 13 per cent.

And as for respondents in Manitoba, 18 per cent said they strongly opposed the idea of their province implementing a proof of vaccination system, which happens to be almost the same number of edible residents yet to get a first shot, 17.7 per cent.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 2, 2021

Amazon Canada Adds Disclaimer to Ivermectin Searches

Canadians looking for ivermectin, a medication used to treat parasitic infections in humans and animals, on Amazon will now be met with a banner reading: “Health Canada – Ivermectin not authorized to prevent or treat COVID-19.”

And on Tuesday, Health Canada issued an advisory asking people not to take the drug, after the CBC reported this past weekend that people where looking for over-the-counter forms at livestock feed stores in Alberta, with the intention of using it as a COVID treatment.

“There is no evidence that ivermectin in either [the human or veterinary] formulation is safe or effective when used for those purposes,” the agency warned on Tuesday.

“The human version of ivermectin is authorized for sale in Canada only for the treatment of parasitic worm infections in people.

“The veterinary version of ivermectin, especially at high doses, can be dangerous for humans and may cause serious health problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure … coma and even death.”

Although ivermectin is not currently authorized for use in the treatment of COVID-19 by Health Canada or the FDA — who as recently as Aug. 31 asked vets and retailers once again “for assistance in sharing important safety information with consumers about the dangerous misuse of animal ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19 in people” — claims of its efficacy continue to circulate.

Joe Rogan, host of the popular American podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience,” listed ivermectin as one of the treatments he is taking for COVID-19, confirming Wednesday that he had tested positive for the virus. Rogan, however, has suggested that young, healthy people need not get vaccinated — an intervention that is approved to help prevent severe illness and death from the coronavirus.

U.K. Offers Third Shot to immunosuppressed

Ahead of an official COVID-19 booster program, the U.K. is offering a third vaccine dose to severely immunosuppressed residents — people with immunosuppressive conditions such as HIV/AIDS, and those who have received immunosuppressive treatments like chemotherapy — reported to be less than one per cent of the population.

“We want people with severely suppressed immune systems to have the best chance of gaining protection from COVID-19 via vaccination,” said Wei Shen Lim, Chair of the U.K.’s COVID-19 Immunisation for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The move was based on data that showed 40 per cent of immunosuppressed people had only low levels of antibodies after two shots, Public Health England said Wednesday. Pfizer or Moderna shots are being recommended for the third dose, as officials say there is more data for the mRNA vaccines. But guidance from the JCVI on a booster program for seniors, and others vulnerable to severe outcomes from infection, is still forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization once again voiced his objection to “widespread use of boosters.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said Wednesday that although “third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations, where there is evidence of waning immunity against severe disease and death,” there should be a moratorium on boosters at least until the end of September “to allow those countries that are furthest behind to catch up.”

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 1, 2021

Vaccine Passport Goes Live in Quebec, Ontario Announces Its Own

Ontario today announced a plan to require proof of vaccination that will go into effect Sept. 22 for “higher-risk indoor settings” including gyms, restaurants, concert venues, strip clubs, banquet halls and convention centres.

“It’s no secret this is something I did not want to do,” said Premier Doug Ford at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “We either do this or we risk shutting down.”

Today’s announcement in Ontario comes as Quebec’s vaccine passport system went into effect

Digital or paper proof of vaccination is now required to attend everything from conventions and casinos to bars and bingo halls — click here for the full list. And it will be required of residents and visitors to the province.

The move is “unprecedented,” Kerry Bowman, a University of Toronto professor who teaches bioethics and global health, told the CBC. He worries that the policy could alienate unvaccinated people, and fuel the fire of the anti-vax movement. “Now, look, is it justified under this difficult emergency that we’re in? I hope it is,” he said.

Bowman also expressed concern for the business owners being asked to enforce the passport. “Are they trained for it? Do they have support for it? And in some cases — and we have seen this in Quebec and throughout the country and the world — they are likely going to be dealing with some very, very angry people,” he said. “And so how all of that is going to be brokered is a big consideration.”

And in B.C., where a vaccine passport will go into effect sometime this month, and a mask mandate has been reissued, an infectious disease expert says the measures may be too late to curb a fourth wave in the province.

“Neither of those things are going to be immediately effective,” Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an infectious diseases specialist and clinical associate professor in pediatrics at the University of British Columbia told the CBC. “I think we have some challenges with the timing of our interventions, like letting loose of the mask mandates earlier in the summer, then reinstituting them.”

CDC Warns Against Travel Ahead of Long Weekend

Ahead of the long weekend, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking unvaccinated Americans not to travel during the Labor Day holiday.

“First and foremost, if you are unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House COVID-19 Response Team Briefing on Tuesday. She went on to say that while fully vaccinated people can travel, with precautions, current transmission rates mean they too need to take the risk of travel into consideration.

This comes on the heels of the U.S. State Department warning Americans against travel to Canada due to “a high level of COVID-19 in the country.”

However, no such warnings against travel have come from Canadian public health officials ahead of the long weekend. On Twitter, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said only yesterday that with Labour Day “just around the corner, make time to fit in a 1st or 2nd dose of a #COVID19Vaccine.”

According to figures from COVID-19 Tracker Canada, 84 per cent of eligible Canadians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 76 per cent fully vaccinated.

While in the U.S., figures from the CDC show that vaccination rates continue to trail our own, with 72 per cent of eligible Americans partially vaccinated and 61 per cent fully vaccinated. Data presented by the agency this week also showed that the rate of hospitalization from COVID-19 is 16 times greater in the unvaccinated population.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 31, 2021

Ontario Moves on Boosters; U.S. Still Deciding 

Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada to roll out a COVID-19 booster, and has begun with seniors in long-term care homes and immunocompromised people. But the province is waiting to take the campaign to the broader population.

“I’m totally open-minded that we all might need boosters at some point. We might. But the question is, do we all need boosters right now? The answer is a resounding ‘no,’” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at University Health Network and associate professor at the University of Toronto.

“There will be data at some point that may suggest that we need to expand the booster program. We just don’t have that right now.”

There has been no recommendation made yet for boosters in the general population by Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization, and the province’s chief medical officer of health has said he’ll be waiting on that to move forward.

“We need to build it on science and on data and on safety and effectiveness and we need to ensure that there are not any harms by providing a third dose, which is why you need large studies in advance to guide these types of decision-making,” Dr. Kieran Moore told reporters last week.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to make a recommendation for boosters in that country, with experts reporting to the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices yesterday that vaccine effectiveness hasn’t waned by much.

“Regardless of the vaccine evaluated, all vaccines remain effective in preventing hospitalization and severe disease. But they may be less effective in preventing infection and mild illness recently,” Dr. Sara Oliver told the ACIP Monday. “These reasons for lower effectiveness likely include both waning over time and the Delta variant.”

Of note, one study in the U.S. showed that vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization in those 65 and older may have decreased, but only slightly, Oliver told the committee. And data yet to be published by the CDC shows vaccine effectiveness remains very high — at 94 per cent or higher — in adults 18 to 74 years old.

U.S. Puts Canada on Travel Health Notice

With 900,000 new infections reported last week, as compared to 20,000 new cases over the same time in Canada, the U.S. has put this country on a list of places to which Americans should “reconsider travel.” The move came Monday, with the latest travel advisory issued by the U.S. State Department.

Canada was upgraded to Level 3 on its alert, with a travel health notice issued “due to COVID-19, indicating a high level of COVID-19 in the country. Your risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing severe symptoms may be lower if you are fully vaccinated with an FDA authorized vaccine.”

Of course Canada is only accepting American visitors who are fully vaccinated, reopening the border to them earlier this month.

But Canadians are getting frustrated with the lack of quid pro quo. Although residents have always been able to fly to the U.S., vaccinated or not, a tweet responding to Homeland Security’s decision from earlier this month to extend the border ban on Canadians highlights a flaw in the logic of the policy.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 30, 2021

Vaccine Passport Coming for Ontarians 

A report by the Toronto Star revealed that a vaccine passport system will be introduced in Ontario within weeks.

“The guidance will be clear. In order to access some non-essential services and events you will have to be vaccinated,” a senior government source told the Star Friday. “The primary reason for these new measures is to ensure we don’t need to shut down the Ontario economy during the fourth wave.”

It’s expected that proof of vaccination will be required for indoor dining, gyms, theatres, concert venues and sporting events.

The move will be a 180 by Premier Doug Ford, who has been up to this point emphatic about refusing vaccine mandates, and saying recently about a passport system that it would create a “split society,” giving a “hard no” to the idea.

Both B.C. and Quebec will put their own widespread passport programs in place in September.

Booster Protects Against Serious Illness, Says Israeli Study

A study out of Israel, the first country to offer a COVID-19 booster, showed that the risk of infection from the coronavirus reduced 11-fold for people 12 days after they’d gotten a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine. And the booster was also associated with at least a 10-fold reduction in risk of serious illness, according to the research by the country’s Ministry of Health and key scientific institutes.

Israel approved a Pfizer-BioNTech booster for vulnerable citizens on July 12, and began offering it on July 30 to anyone 60 or older who had been immunized for at least five months.

“The results of such a policy are of importance for countries that seek strategies to mitigate the pandemic,” said Yinon M. Bar-On from the Weizmann Institute of Science. “Our findings give clear indications of the effectiveness of a booster dose even against the currently dominant Delta variant.”

Israel’s Ministry of Health said Sunday that it’s reducing the age required for the third shot to anyone 12 or older.

However, the World Health Organization has been critical of country’s planning to offer a COVID-19 booster ahead of more of the world’s population getting at least one dose.

“When some countries afford to have the booster and others are not even vaccinating the first and second round, it’s a moral issue,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a media briefing last week.

He’s also warned that stronger variants of the coronavirus could develop if global vaccination rates don’t increase, urging for doses intended as booster shots be donated to countries where people have not received a first or second shot.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 27, 2021

Canada Makes it to the U.K.’s Safe List

Canadians looking to travel to the United Kingdom can do so without having to quarantine, as of Aug. 30.

In the latest update of its COVID safety travel list, the U.K. moved Canada, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Azores from amber to green, meaning travellers coming from these countries — regardless of vaccination status — need to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test within three days of flying, and another two days after arrival, but only have to quarantine if one of those tests come back positive.

In its announcement Thursday, the U.K. Department for Transport said that although the risk posed to public health by travellers from the seven nations was determined to be low, it will continue to monitor the situation and “will not hesitate to take action should the data show that countries’ risk ratings have changed.”

Less than 50 countries have so far made it to the green list since the U.K. introduced its travel traffic light system in May, with New Zealand and Iceland among the first. The U.S. will remain on the amber list, along with others including Spain and France, until at least the next review in three weeks.

Thailand and Montenegro were moved to the red list in this latest review, with officials saying that increased case rates and low levels of infection surveillance in these countries mean that “a new variant or existing variants of concern (VOC) or variants under investigation (VUI) cannot be easily identified before it is imported and seeded across the U.K.”

Health Risks Higher From COVID Than Vaccines

Findings from a study of more than 29 million people in England, aged 16 or older, who had a first dose of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine between December and April suggests that risk of thrombocytopenia, a blood clot, is nine times higher from the coronavirus than a first shot of AstraZeneca.

Researchers estimated that there would be 107 additional cases of thrombocytopenia in the 28 days post-vaccination with AstraZeneca per 10 million people, compared with 934 incidents of the blood clot in people with the virus. They said the risk posed by the AZ shot was similar to that of the flu shot.

And although the researchers found an association between those vaccinated with Pfizer and an increased risk of stroke, the risk was more than 10 times greater in those with the coronavirus — there were an estimated 143 extra cases of ischaemic stroke per 10 million people with Pfizer, compared with 1,699 cases in those with COVID-19.

The researchers concluded that vast majority of people will be “absolutely fine” after their coronavirus vaccine.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 26, 2021

No Criminal Charges for “Tragic Events” at Quebec Nursing Home

One of Quebec’s hardest-hit nursing homes will not face criminal charges for actions that lead to the deaths of at least 38 residents in the first few months of the pandemic. In a statement Thursday, Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions said it found there was insufficient evidence to lay charges after reviewing findings by police and expert testimony from medical specialists.

“This decision in no way trivializes the tragic events that occurred at CHLSD Herron, nor does it mean any fault of civic or ethical nature could not have been committed,” the statement said.

A report into CHSLD Herron, a privately run long-term care home in Montreal, described the grim outcome from COVID-19 as one of “organizational negligence,” saying that if management understood its responsibilities and used the resources at its disposal, “it is reasonable to conclude that the Grim Reaper would not have been as devastating.”

Public hearings into what happened at the home were suspended in February, pending a decision on the criminal charges, but are now scheduled to resume in September.

In March of this year, a $5.5-million settlement was reached in a class action lawsuit launched by residents of CHSLD Herron and their family members against the home.

Airlines Mandating Vaccination for Employees

Air Canada followed Porter Airlines’ lead Wednesday, announcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all employees. But unlike the smaller carrier, Air Canada will not offer testing as an alternative for those who wish not to get the shot.

“Under the mandatory vaccination policy, testing will not be offered as an alternative,” read a statement from the company.

“While Air Canada will fulfil its duties to accommodate employees who for valid reasons, such as medical conditions, cannot be vaccinated, failure to be fully vaccinated by October 30, 2021 will have consequences up to and including unpaid leave or termination, except for those who qualify for accommodation.”

The company said the mandate is in accordance with a recent move by the government, requiring employees in the federally regulated air, rail, and marine transportation sectors to be vaccinated by the end of October.

Stateside, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have said they will not require employees to get the shot, unlike United Airlines who mandated that workers be fully vaccinated by Oct. 25.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 25, 2021

Masks Coming Back for B.C., Manitoba

Two provinces that had dropped mask mandates amid low case numbers after the third wave are re-introducing the measure.

In B.C., where hospitalizations from COVID-19 are reported to have doubled in two weeks, and ICU admissions increased by 50 per cent in the last seven days, after announcing that guidelines for back to school would include masking for teachers and students in grade 4 and up, officials put a province-wide mask mandate back into effect for all public indoor settings.

“We now know that there is still a need for certain measures to be taken. The mask mandate is one of those additional layers that we’re putting in place as we transition through the fall,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a press conference Tuesday.

The mandate begins today and applies to everyone over the age of 12, with Henry saying the measure will be re-assessed mid-October. The move comes a day after the province announced a vaccine passport will go into effect this fall.

Meanwhile, Manitoba released its latest modelling yesterday — the worst case scenario seeing ICUs overwhelmed within weeks of a fourth wave in the province if no measures were put in place to control it, and vaccination rates remain at current levels.

“We’re in a serious situation. We’re taking pre-emptive action because we want to avoid the magnitude of what we saw in that third and second wave. All of us should work to make sure that we achieve that,” said Premier Brian Pallister at a press conference Tuesday, where he announced that a provincial mask mandate would be re-introduced before school begins in September.

A vaccine mandate for provincial employees was also announced, requiring them to have their second shot by Oct. 31. “As we prepare for the fourth wave of the pandemic and the new school year, it is critical that we do everything we can to get all Manitobans who are eligible fully vaccinated and protect those who cannot get vaccinated as well, which is our young people,” said Pallister.

N.W.T. Reports First COVID Death

A Sahtu Dene Elder is the first resident of the Northwest Territories to die from COVID-19. The 92-year-old, Gabe Kochon, was described by his daughter as “still very active.”

Officials have not said if Kochon was vaccinated or not. As of Tuesday, 74 per cent of eligible residents in the territory were fully vaccinated, and 79 per cent were partially vaccinated.

N.W.T., which has reported just 351 cases of COVID-19, is currently experiencing its worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic, with 218 active cases as of Tuesday — mostly located in the Sahtu region where two communities, Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake, have been under a containment order for the past 10 days.

“The current case count in the N.W.T. is a stark reminder that COVID-19 continues to impact our lives, and that the situation can change quickly. The health and well-being of N.W.T. residents and communities remains our No. 1 priority – and it’s important we continue to increase the number of residents being vaccinated,” Premier Caroline Cochrane and Health Minister Julie Green  said in a statement.

Quebec to Release Vaccine Passport App Today

Quebecers who have received verification that they’re fully vaccinated, in the form of a QR code via email, can download the VaxiCode app today, with the province’s vaccine passport program going into effect Sept. 1. People who do not use, or do not have access to a smartphone, can request their proof of vaccination be mailed to them, or can print it themselves.

With the exception of people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons, anyone 13 and older in Quebec will have to present their QR code to access non-essential services including indoor dining at restaurants, gyms, live events and theatres — with business facing fines of up to $6,000 for not checking peoples’ vaccine status. Visitors to the province will have to supply proof of vaccination as supplied by their own jurisdiction.

“Today we are responding to a commitment we made to Quebecers that vaccination was a passport to freedom,” said Health Minister Christian Dubé at a press conference Tuesday. “The vaccine passport is the balance we have found to keep our economy open while protecting the population. With the vaccine and the passport, we want to avoid closing businesses and banning activities.”

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 24, 2021

B.C. to Introduce Vaccine Card

Proof of vaccination will be required to do go just about every where but the grocery store and pharmacy in B.C. as of Sept. 13., with Premier John Horgan telling reporters Monday, “Getting vaccinated is the way forward through this pandemic.”

Eligible residents will require one dose of a vaccine by Sept. 13, and a second dose by Oct. 24, to receive a vaccine card granting entry to any of the following non-essential public settings:

  • indoor ticketed sporting events
  • indoor concerts
  • indoor theatre/dance/symphony events
  • restaurants (indoor and patio dining)
  • night clubs
  • casinos
  • movie theatres
  • fitness centres/gyms (excluding youth recreational sport)
  • businesses offering indoor high-intensity group exercise activities
  • organized indoor events (e.g., weddings, parties, conferences, meetings, workshops)
  • discretionary organized indoor group recreational classes and activities
  • student housing on college and university campuses

And while exceptions will be made for children under the age of 12, people who are unable to receive the vaccine for health or religious reason will not be given a pass. Proof of vaccination will also be required of visitors to the province.

Appearing with Horgan for the announcement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry noted that unvaccinated people account for about 90 per cent of COVID-19 cases and 93 per cent of hospitalizations in B.C., and their risk of infection is about 10 times higher. “These numbers are a stark reminder of why vaccines are important,” said Henry.

Ontario Epidemiologist Quits Advisory Panel

As we hold our breath for what the fourth wave will bring, an expert on Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table resigned from the panel Monday, alleging “grim” projections were being withheld due to political interference.

Two days after tweeting that the science table had “important modelling work that projects a grim fall,” on Monday, Dr. David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, announced his resignation, also via Twitter. “I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with the degree to which political considerations appear to be driving outputs from the tables, or at least the degree to which these outputs are shared in a transparent manner with the public.”

The panel has refuted Fisman’s claim that projections are being withheld, with a four-part post on the Science Advisory Table’s Twitter account Sunday. “There appear to be some rumours that the Science Advisory Table is withholding a consensus model of COVID-19 in the fall. To be absolutely clear, that is not true,” read the first post, which went on to say that “rigorous science” was being done and that calculations were only in the “beginning” stage.

The director of the table, Dr. Peter Juni, told the CBC yesterday that delays in releasing modelling were a result of summer vacation, but that “What you will see relatively closely in the future is the regular projections, as we have seen them in the past,”

The table’s previous projections, released on June 10, however could be seen to have missed the mark — predicting that a fourth wave caused by the Delta variant was unlikely.

The province reported 486 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday — the first time that number has been under 500 in five days — and logged 722 new cases Sunday, the most its seen in a single day since the beginning of June.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 23, 2021

Pfizer Gets Final Nod From FDA

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has gotten full approval in the U.S., the first country to grant a final nod to the shot, having administered more than 200 million doses under an emergency use approval since December past.

“The public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said acting U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Janet Woodcock. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”

Pfizer, CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement he hoped the decision “will help increase confidence in our vaccine, as vaccination remains the best tool we have to help protect lives.” Hospitalizations in the country are reported to have hit their highest levels of the pandemic, and experts hope the approval will spur vaccine hesitant residents to get inoculated.

According to tracking by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 71 per cent of Americans eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine — those 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer shot — have gotten one dose, and 60 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Jays Fans Will Need a Shot to Attend Games, TIFF Reverses Its Stance

Proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will be required for fans, staff and guests attending Blue Jays games starting Sept. 13, the team announced Monday. They’ve only been playing back on home soil since July, with the pandemic keeping the team stateside for nearly two years.

“The Blue Jays homecoming marked a significant step in our city and country’s return to normal, as one of the first in-person, live events in Canada in a year and a half. We are committed to doing our part to keep our community’s recovery efforts moving forward and to see Rogers Centre and other live events return to full capacity,” the club said in a statement.

“The well-being of Blue Jays fans, staff and players has always been our priority and we are proud to join fellow venues in making large-scale events as safe as possible.”

The protocol will apply to Rogers Centre visitors ages 12 and older, with younger children exempt from testing as long as they attend with a parent or guardian who meets entry requirements: government-issued I.D. and a receipt of a full COVID-19 vaccination received at least 14 days prior to the day of the game, or a negative COVID-19 test result within 48 hours of the game’s scheduled start.

The Jays join Toronto’s other professional sports teams — the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC and Argonauts — who last week announced a proof of vaccine policy would go into effect in September.

And, visitors to the Toronto International Film Festival will now require proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test, in a change of protocol announced Monday, Earlier this month organizers said masks would be required but proof of vaccination would not be for staff, talent and media entering festival grounds over the course of the event, which runs Sept. 9 to 18.

“TIFF has taken great care and consideration in implementing these TIFF specific protocols to mitigate risk to audiences and guests attending TIFF,” said Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey, TIFF co-heads.

“We have relied on municipal and provincial medical direction and advice on rapid testing and we expect this will provide another level of clarity and comfort for all 2021 festival goers.”

—Tara Losinski

Aug. 20, 2021

U.S. Stays Closed To Canada and Mexico

The U.S. has decided to continue its 17-month long closure of land and ferry crossings to non-essential travel from Canada and Mexico, extending the restriction by another month to Sept. 21. A message released on Twitter by the Department of Homeland Security says the extension was made “to minimize the spread of #COVID19, including the Delta variant,” with a follow up tweet saying, “DHS continues working closely with its partners across the United States and internationally to determine how to safely and sustainably resume normal travel.”

Canada reopened its border to fully vaccinated Americans earlier this month — which, considering vaccination rates stateside, would mean a little more than 50 per cent of the population would be potentially eligible to visit — and the federal government will extend entry to fully vaccinated foreign nationals on Sept. 7.

Of course it isn’t just its North American neighbours with which the U.S. has yet to lift the travel ban, with the EU looking for quid pro quo after putting American travellers on its safe list in June.

Canadians Feeling Less Certain That the Worst Is Over

A survey released today by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies suggests that, at the beginning of what public health officials have confirmed is a fourth wave, Canadians are feeling less certain about the worst of the pandemic being at our backs. When asked what statement best described their opinion of the COVID crisis, 44 per cent of people said they felt the worst of the pandemic had already past — that’s down from a high of about 70 per cent in late June.

“I look at these numbers, and I get the feeling Canadians are starting to feel a little bit uncertain in terms of where the pandemic is heading,” said Andrew Enns, executive vice-president of Leger. “That number has been dropping now for the better part of a month.”

It’s perhaps not a surprise then, that 76 per cent of respondents said “no” when asked if governments should lift all remaining pandemic restrictions now. Nor may it be surprising that 76 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec would support a vaccine passport in their own jurisdiction, and, while thousands in Quebec demonstrated against it this past weekend, the survey suggests that 81 per cent of the province’s residents support the vaccine passport going into effect Sept. 1.

Quebec saw vaccine appointments double after the government announced its vaccine passport plan. But will residents go a step further and get a third shot? Results from the survey suggest yes, with a whooping 94 per cent of Quebecers — compared to 58 of all Canadians — who’d got one dose of AstraZeneca saying they would get a booster shot, if studies support the claim that it would give them more protection.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 19, 2021

U.S. Recommends Boosters, Requires Vaccines for Nursing-Home Staff

The U.S. will start offering COVID-19 vaccine boosters in September, public health officials and medical experts announced in a joint statement on Wednesday. “We are prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting 8 months after an individual’s second dose,” read a statement from officials, including CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and FDA Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock.

“At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster. We would also begin efforts to deliver booster shots directly to residents of long-term care facilities at that time,” the statement read.

In response to another country deciding to roll out boosters, the World Health Organization regional director for Africa said the decision by rich countries to do so has the potential to “threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow” for the continent. Less than two per cent of the population of Africa are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the first woman to be elected to the role in Africa, wasn’t mincing words Thursday. “As some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery of vaccine equity.”

Ontario is the only jurisdiction in Canada to move on boosters, announcing yesterday that it will offer third doses to vulnerable residents, including transplant patients and people in long-term care.

Also stateside yesterday, President Joe Biden announced his plan to require vaccination of all staff at nursing homes as a condition for the facility to continue receiving federal funding. “If you visit, live or work in a nursing home, you should not be at a high risk for contracting COVID from unvaccinated employees,” said Biden, adding that 130,000 nursing-home residents have died from COVID-19.

“I’m using the power of the federal government as a payer of health care costs to ensure to reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors,” he continued.

What Voting Will Look Like

As Elections Canada readies for a federal election amid a fourth wave of COVID-19, it was confirmed yesterday that the more than 250,000 polling officers working at stations across the country will not be required to be vaccinated. “These are the same Canadians that you meet every day at the grocery store. The difference is that the polls are a controlled environment where safety measures can be applied more rigorously,” said Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault at a press briefing in Ottawa Wednesday.

Elections Canada says poll workers will be limited to one per desk, seated behind plexiglass, they will wear masks and face shields, and surfaces will be cleaned regularly. Voters can bring their own pencils or be provided with single-use one for marking their ballot.

Voters will be required to wear masks in jurisdictions where a mandate is still in effect, but they will not be denied the right to vote in person without a mask. “There are medical exemptions but they should plan their vote and if you do not intend to vote with a mask, I would encourage you to vote by mail,” said Perrault.

It’s expected that more Canadians will choose the mail-in ballot option this time around, normally 500,000 to 700,000 non-local mail-in ballots are cast from Canadians living or working abroad. But voters living in Canada can request a local mail-in ballot through Elections Canada, click here, taking them off the local voting roll for election day. However, if their ballot fails to arrive in the mail, someone can still take an oath at a polling station, swearing to be voting only once.

“Any instance of double-voting will be referred to the commissioner of Canada elections for his consideration and investigation. There are serious offences under the act for attempting to vote twice,” Perrault said. But he’s confident that in-person voting can be done safely.

“If you look back at the last 18 months, we’ve had elections in Canada provincially and we’ve had territorial elections. There have been elections around the world. And there has not been outbreaks of COVID-19 as a result of in-person voting,” he said.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 18, 2021

Ontario Upping the Ante on Unvaccinated

What was anticipated to be a mandatory vaccine order for health-care and education workers in Ontario, lived up to exactly what Premier Doug Ford has said in the past: no mandatory COVID-19 vaccination, as he believes it goes against one’s constitutional rights. Rather, under a “voluntary disclosure policy” introduced Tuesday, hospital, nursing-home, home-care and education workers who choose not to get the shot, or cannot for medical reasons, will instead undergo weekly testing.

The province also opened up vaccination to children who turn 12 this year, not just those 12 and older, and chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore said the government is “reviewing” whether to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for students, as are shots for other communicable diseases like measles.

Criticism of the order came swift yesterday, from Ford’s political opponents, but also from leaders in the affected sectors. “Given the severity and longevity of the global pandemic, it is not unreasonable for the Ford government to implement a mandatory vaccination policy in schools,” said Sam Hammond president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. “The province’s voluntary disclosure policy does not go far enough to protect students and school staff.”

Where Ford left less wiggle room on vaccination is within his own caucus. Elected members of provincial parliament will be removed from the Progressive Conservative caucus if they don’t get vaccinated, Ford spokesperson Ivana Yelich confirmed yesterday. Although she didn’t supply a date by which it needs to happen, Yelich said the expectation is “that every single PC caucus member and candidate be vaccinated” as they work with the public every day.

Quebec Mandates Vaccination for Health-Care Workers

Meanwhile, Quebec officials are threatening suspension without pay for “any [health-care worker] in direct contact with vulnerable people for 15 minutes or more” if they are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. Premier François Legault Tuesday announced a mandate for health-care workers, including everyone from people who disinfect hospital rooms to doctors, nurses and cardio-respiratory therapists, which requires them to have gotten a first shot by Sept. 1, and their second by the beginning of October.

“We can’t afford to keep some staff in contact with patients if they are not vaccinated,” said Legault at a news conference yesterday. “I understand that this isn’t an easy decision to make.”

The move could be seen as a heavy-handed approach to encouraging vaccination, and Legault acknowledged that his government is in a tricky situation but also pointed out that most new hospitalizations in the province are among the unvaccinated.

The province is within its rights to require vaccination — with exceptions — in the health-care sector Richard Gold, a professor in the faculty of law and medicine at McGill University, told the CBC. “People who have a medical disability or religious belief that prevents them from getting vaccinated … those individuals need to have an out,” he said.

“If you’re just someone who doesn’t feel like it, no, there’s no such thing as discrimination on the basis of our life decisions,” Gold said, adding people have to “live with the consequences” of their decisions.

While the province has not said whether it will mandate vaccines in schools, as part of yesterday’s announcement Legault did say masks will be mandatory in classrooms in universities, CEGEPs and junior colleges, and that his government is consulting with public health about tightening the mask mandate in elementary and high schools.

Vaccine-Required, Says MLSE and Others

Whether Ontario’s government wants a vaccine passport or not, proof of vaccination is becoming de rigueur in the province. On Tuesday Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (MLSE) announced that starting mid-September, all of their sports venues will require it, or a negative test, from fans before entrance to Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors, BMO Field, home of the Toronto FC and Argonauts, as well as several MLSE-owned restaurants.

“As an organization that hosts more than four million fans per year, at hundreds of events in multiple venues, MLSE is proud to serve as a central gathering place in Toronto and recognizes its responsibility to provide attendees with a safe and secure environment,” the company said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

And Wednesday, organizers of Fall BeerFest T.O., said the email receipt sent by Ontario’s Ministry of Health after receiving a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine must be used to gain admission to Bandshell Park at Toronto’s Exhibition Place, for this year’s festival on Sept. 24 and 25. All vendors, crew, suppliers, artists, and partners will also be required to show proof of vaccination.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 17, 2021

Alberta Top Doc Puts Off Further Easing of COVID Measures

Alberta officials have walked back their plan to ease remaining COVID-19 public health measures. Rather than lift the orders yesterday, masking on public transit, school buses and in taxis and ride-shares, along with mandatory 10-day isolation for people with symptoms or positive test results, will now stay in place until Sept. 27.

“Since I made my previous recommendations, I have been watching local and international data closely, and two items have emerged that have led me to recommend that we adjust our approach and defer the changes originally scheduled for Aug. 16,” said Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw Monday, pointing to an increase of hospitalizations in the province and U.S. figures showing a sharp rise of COVID illness among children.

Alberta has the highest number of active cases in the country — numbering 5,354 by Monday, up from 579 on July 16, two weeks after the province lifted most of its pandemic restrictions. And as the Edmonton Journal reports, hospitalizations are now about 1.5 times higher than this time last month.

New Zealand Locks Down After One Case

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern isn’t taking any chances, putting the entire country into a three-day lockdown Tuesday after its first case of infection in the community since February — an unvaccinated 58-year-old man in Aukland, the country’s largest city. Under a level-four lockdown — the strictest — residents must stay home and all but essential businesses must close. Although it’s yet to be confirmed, officials assume the case is that of the Delta variant.

“We’re in the position to learn from experience overseas, and what actions work, and what actions don’t work,” said Ardern. “Delta has been called a game changer — and it is. It means we need to again go hard and early to stop the spread. We have seen what can happen elsewhere if we fail to get on top of it. We only get one chance.”

With a population of 4.9 million, New Zealand closed its borders to foreign nationals early in the pandemic, and implemented a strict quarantine for all incoming travellers — the fruits of those measures being a total case count that numbers less than 3,000, and a death toll of only 26.

The country plans to reopen to vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries — but not until early 2022.

COVID Worries Amid Afghan Upheaval

As we see more and more images of citizens trying to flee the unrest in Afghanistanas the Taliban seize power in the country, the World Health Organization (WHO) worries about the spread of COVID-19.

“As the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate rapidly, WHO is extremely concerned over the unfolding safety and humanitarian needs in the country, including risk of disease outbreaks and rise in COVID-19 transmission,” Tarik Jasarevic told a U.N. briefing.

The agency, whose mobile health teams have been hold up in the capital of Kabul for the past 24 hours, says the country’s vaccine rollout has slowed as a result of the turmoil. Tracking by the New York Times shows that only two per cent of Afghanistan’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 16, 2021

Ontario to Mandate Vaccines for Health-Care Workers, Introduce Boosters

It’s expected Tuesday that Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore will announce a province-wide vaccine mandate for doctors, nurses, and any “patient-facing” hospital workers. People who refuse can expect twice-weekly coronavirus testing. And as the Toronto Star reports, the province will also introduce COVID-19 vaccine boosters for vulnerable elderly and immunocompromised people, with a third shot available as soon as this month.

The province is also not expected to loosen any further pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates for indoor public settings, and today Premier Doug Ford once again encouraged Ontarians to get their vaccine shots.

“This is a virus that will exploit any opportunity, any weakness in the system to mutate and become even more lethal,” Ford said Monday morning at the annual Association of Ontario Municipalities conference. “You only need to look south to see what can happen if we let our guards down and how quickly a variant can devastate an unvaccinated population.”

Japan Seeing “Alarming” COVID Surge; No Fans for Paralympics 

Japan’s state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and Okinawa is being extended until to Sept. 12 — until after the re-scheduled 2020 Paralympics, which run Aug. 24 to Sept. 5 — the government announced Monday. “The surge in infections is reaching alarming record highs,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters after deciding on the move. Daily reported cases have been reaching record highs in parts of the country, with host-city Tokyo seeing about 5,000 a day over the past week, while the country saw more than 100,000 new infections over the past seven days — a 21 per cent increase over the previous week, which marked the end of the 2020 Olympics.

As per pandemic precautions, organizers announced Monday that no fans will be permitted to attend Paralympic events, as was the case during the Olympics. Canada is sending 128 athletes to the Games, expected to convene in Gifu, Japan, today, training in Nagaragawa Athletic Stadium until Aug. 23, before travelling into Tokyo.

“This group of selected athletes have displayed incredible resiliency and commitment to prepare for Tokyo through these tumultuous times, which will set them up very well for success at the Games,” said Canada’s Para athletics head coach, Carla Nicholls in a July 30th statement announcing the final team selections.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 13, 2021

The Fourth Wave is Now in Canada

Canada is now officially in a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Thursday. She said the national case count has taken a turn for the worse since the last modelling update two weeks ago.

“We have been closely monitoring increases in COVID-19 activity across the country. The latest national surveillance data indicate that a fourth wave is underway in Canada and that cases are plotting along a strong resurgence trajectory,” she told reporters.

More than 500 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Ontario on each of the last two consecutive days for the first time in two months, with 513 cases on Thursday and 510 on Friday

British Columbia also reported 513 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily increase in new COVID cases since mid-May.

And Alberta today is reporting 550 new COVID cases, the highest case count since late May and the second consecutive day of 500 or more cases. 

Mandatory Vaccinations Are Becoming More Common 

All workers at long-term care facilities in British Columbia must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 12. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the announcement Thursday, saying that all the eight active outbreaks in long-term care settings in the province were caused by unvaccinated workers. The mandate applies immediate to volunteers and personal service providers who are not allowed into a facility until they are fully vaccinated.

More and more Canadian universities are announcing a mandatory vaccination policy. The University of Toronto, Western University in London, Ont., and Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ont., as well as the University of Guelph  and Queen’s University are the latest to say they’ll require proof of vaccination from those attending their facilities, including staff, students and faculty. Those who can’t be vaccinated will need to participate in screening programs and may be subject to additional health measures. 

Also, the Ontario Medical Association on Thursday called on the province to implement mandatory vaccinations for those working in schools as well as mandatory indoor masking as kids get set to head back to the classrooms.

Booster Shots Are the Next Big Thing

Israel today became the first country to start offering booster shots to all people over 50 and will offer a third shot to those over 40 soon. The announcement came a day after health officials predicted that within a month Israel could see hospitals overrun. 

“We know that the declining [vaccine] effectiveness affects all ages. We see the infections, and even people aged 40 and up can get seriously ill,” explained the director of Israel’s health ministry, Nachman Ash.

The country was one of the first to launch a vaccination drive in mid-December. The campaign helped to drastically bring down infections, but that trend has since reversed, driven by the spread of the Delta variant in unvaccinated people as well as those whose immunity has waned six months after they got their initial shots.

Meanwhile, CTV News reports that a Canadian study showed that a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine provides substantially more protection against the coronavirus in transplant patients. Results showed the placebo group’s response rate was only 18 per cent, while the Moderna three-dose group had a response rate of 55 per cent. They also found that only 25 per cent of the patients in the placebo group developed neutralizing antibodies compared to 60 per cent in the Moderna group.

“If you have both antibodies and T-cells, you’re protected from severe infection and from actually contracting the infection. You’re protected from both,” said study author Dr. Deepali Kumar, director of transplant infectious diseases at University Health Network.

 On Thursday, the U.S. authorized booster shots for certain people with compromised immune systems, including transplant recipients. “The country has entered yet another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said acting FDA commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock. “After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.”

A COVID Outbreak Aboard a Cruise … Again

Twenty-seven people aboard a Carnival cruise tested positive for COVID-19 just before the ship made a stop in Belize City this week, according to the Belize Tourism Board.

The positive cases were among 26 crew members and one passenger on the Carnival Vista, which is carrying over 1,400 crew and nearly 3,000 passengers, the board said in a statement. The ship, which left from Galveston, Texas, arrived Wednesday in Belize City.

All 27 were vaccinated, had mild or no symptoms, and were in isolation, according to the statement. The tourism board said 99.98 per cent of the ship’s crew was vaccinated, as well as 96.5 per cent of its passengers.

Judy Gerstel 


Aug. 12, 2021

Vaccine Passport for Travel Coming; Jets Fans Will Need Proof of Vaccination to Attend Games

Canadians will have access to a proof-of-vaccination passport for international travel by early fall. Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Wednesday that Ottawa is working with the provinces and territories to create the certification, which would include the type of vaccine someone has received as well as where and when it was administered. “For Canadians who decide to travel, using a proof of vaccination will provide foreign border officials with the vaccination history needed to assess whether a traveller meets their public health requirements and provide a trusted and verifiable credential for when they return home,” says a government release. The passport is expected to be digital, but Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said it will also be issued in a paper format. The government is also working to have other countries recognize certification issued by Canada — foremost a concern for Canadians travelling abroad will be whether a mixed-dose inoculation will be recognized as fully vaxxed elsewhere as it is at home.

The federal government needs to work with provinces and territories on a national passport, as health records are under their jurisdiction, but it’s a mixed bag when it comes to using passports here ar home. While Quebec will start using one to bar unvaccinated residents from public settings such as gyms and concerts in September, Premier Jason Kenney has repeatedly said passports aren’t for Alberta. “We’ve been very clear from the beginning that we will not facilitate or accept vaccine passports,” Kenney told reporters last month. “I believe they would in principle contravene the Health Information Act and also possibly the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.” And in Manitoba, where passports have been issued for residents two weeks after their second shot for a a few months now, the Winnipeg Jets announced Wednesday that proof of vaccination will be required to attend games this coming season, and all Canada Life Centre employees, event staff and guests will need to provide proof of vaccination.

FDA Expected to Authorize COVID Booster Shots

The US Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce authorization for COVID-19 booster shot within the next 48 hours. It could mean a third shot of Pfizer or Moderna would be available for immunocompromised residents. “The FDA is closely monitoring data as it becomes available from studies administering an additional dose of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines to immunocompromised individuals,” an FDA spokesperson told CNN. “The agency, along with the CDC, is evaluating potential options on this issue, and will share information in the near future.” As the CNN story also notes, a recent study by Johns Hopkins researchers found that vaccinated immunocompromised people are 485 times more likely to end up in the hospital or die from COVID-19 than those who are vaccinated but not considered immunocompromised by a medical condition or, by taking an immune-suppreasing drug. It remains to be seen whether current guidance in the U.S., which is not to mix vaccines, would change to allow for people to mix doses in the case of a booster.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 11, 2021

Ontario Top Doc: Unvaccinated Face 80 to 90% Risk of Infection

The director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table says the province is “absolutely” in its fourth wave, seeing three straight weeks of increasing new daily cases of infection — primarily in people who aren’t vaccinated. “If we continue on our current reopening path, the probability of unvaccinated people across all age groups to experience infection in the next six to 12 months is 80 to 90 per cent,” said Dr. Peter Juni. “And the risk of complications from Delta in this unvaccinated group is two to three times higher than with previous variants.”

More than 70 per cent of eligible residents are now fully vaccinated, but, as the Toronto Star reports, about 1.5 million Ontarians under 40 are eligible to get vaccinated, but still don’t have a first shot — nearly 60 per cent of the total unvaccinated population over age 12. “There are two ways to achieve immunity for the overwhelming majority of the population. It’s either vaccination, that’s the easy way, or infection, that’s the risky way,” said Juni, who warns that keeping the unvaccinated from high-risk settings, such as gyms and indoor dining, may be the only way to stay open, while also protecting the health-care system from being overwhelmed.

Quebec to Institute Vaccine Passport Sept. 1

And in Quebec, people who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 will be denied access to public settings such as bars, restaurants and gyms as of Sept. 1, the province announced Tuesday. A vaccine passport, in the form of a code on your smartphone, will allow residents entry to non-essential public spaces, including festivals and concert venues — and will also be required of visitors from other provinces and countries. “A fourth wave is inevitable in Quebec,” said Health Minister Christian Dubé at a news conference yesterday. “The idea is to give access to these locations only to people who are fully vaccinated, instead of closing them like we have during the first three waves.”

Quebec will be the third jurisdiction in Canada to implement a passport system, with P.E.I. requiring it of visitors to the island who wish to avoid a two-week self-isolation, and Manitoba, where proof of vaccination allows residents returning from out-of-province travel to avoid quarantine, and is also required at some large public gatherings such as sporting events.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 10, 2021

Mandate Vaccination, Ontario LTC Homes Say

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association is calling on the province to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all staff as well as for health-care workers in all settings, saying such a mandate would not only protect residents but also ensure LTC homes don’t lose staff to other health-care facilities. It’s the second such call for mandated shots, with the Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario both urging the province to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all health-care workers. But Premier Doug Ford has resisted the idea, saying recently that is was a “hard no” that he’d change his mind on mandating COVID-19 vaccines, calling it a “constitutional right” for Ontarians to choose whether to be immunized, while at the same time encouraging people to get the shot.

According to tracking by the National Institute on Ageing, Ontario has suffered the second-highest LTC death toll from COVID-19 in Canada, with 4,501 resident deaths recorded, which represents 48 per cent of the province’s total death toll from the pandemic.

Moderna to Build Plant in Canada

The federal government will sign a deal today with drug maker Moderna for a Canadian-based plant to produce its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The details on when, where and how much Canada will contribute are still under negotiation, but last spring Ottawa committed $2.2 billion for biotechnology research and production over the next seven years. Without any domestic COVID-19 vaccine production, the country was forced to wait in line for doses produced offshore, which has slowed the rollout of shots. This will mark the second such deal the government has made, giving $199 million to Resilience Technologies of Mississauga, Ont., this past May so the company can expand an existing plant to produce as much as 640 million doses of mRNA vaccines a year.

Alberta Pediatricians’ Plea

In a letter Monday, the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) Section of Pediatrics, representing more than 300 doctors, said the province’s plan to lift mandatory isolation for those who test positive and many remaining mask mandates beginning Aug. 16, will further accelerate the spread of the Delta variant. They are calling for a pause to rolling back testing, tracing and mandatory isolation until at least 85 per cent of the population is immunized, or the rate of COVID-19 transmission significantly slows. Alberta currently has the most active cases in the country, and is second behind B.C. in reporting the most new cases, 1,590, over the past seven days.

Dr. Tehseen Ladha, assistant professor of pediatrics at theUniversity of Alberta, says the province can take lessons from jurisdictions were similar pandemic measures were lifted — including Louisiana and Florida — only to see an increase in pediatric hospitalizations. “As we near the start of the school year, the relaxed public health measures will result in a fourth wave where COVID-19 will spread quickly throughout unvaccinated populations and children. This poses a high risk to children and families,” Ladha said. “We don’t want to see any more of our young patients getting sick. They are vulnerable and it is our job to protect them.”

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 9, 2021

Canada-U.S. Border Reopens as Cases Surge Stateside

After nearly a year and a half, Americans can once again visit Canada, and skip quarantine — provided they are two weeks post-full vaccination, have shown proof of a negative COVID test 72-hours prior to arriving, and are willing to be part of a post-arrival testing program. “It will be a mandatory random-testing regime,” Denis Vinette, vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency’s COVID-19 border task force, told the CBC. “This surveillance program will allow us to be able to determine, based on the sampling of a pool size, what are the potential risks … in terms of travellers who’ve been vaccinated who may still be carrying COVID.”

The average number of new COVID cases in the U.S. has increased ninefold since the beginning of July, and the country is now seeing the most hospitalizations it has since February. The surge — and the fact that vaccination rates in the U.S., where 58 per cent of the population over 12 are fully vaxxed, lag Canada’s, where 70 per cent of the same demo have received two shots — has at least one expert on this side of the border concerned about its reopening. “There’s a difference in the vaccination rate across the border — there’s just a difference in approaches,” Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at University Health Network in Toronto, told the Toronto Star. “I worry about the possibility of importation of more cases.”

Starting today, Canada will also permit unvaccinated children under the age of 12, travelling with fully vaccinated parents, to skip quarantine. As here, the U.S. has yet to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in younger children.

The government plans to reopen Canada’s borders to fully vaccinated travellers from the rest of the world on Sept. 7, but nothing is set in stone says the country’s top doctor. “We’re taking a precautionary, phased approach to the border reopening,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Thursday. “If we see any significant concerns, of course, we can adjust accordingly.”

Although it’ll be a far cry from the carefree days when people would pop across the Rainbow Bridge for the day from either side of the border, “After 17 long months, we are very pleased to welcome U.S. visitors back to Niagara Falls Canada,” said Janice Thomson, the head of Niagara Falls Tourism. Thomson says that nearly 30 per cent of visitors to the area would normally be American.

The U.S. has yet to reopen its land border with either Canada or Mexico, although Canadians are still able to fly into the country — regardless of vaccination status.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 6, 2021

Delta May Spread as Easily by Fully Vaccinated as Not

Early analysis by Public Health England (PHE) shows that vaccinated people may be able to transmit the Delta variant as easily as those who haven’t gotten a shot. “Some initial findings … indicate that levels of virus in those who become infected with Delta having already been vaccinated may be similar to levels found in unvaccinated people,” PHE said in a statement Friday.. “This may have implications for people’s infectiousness, whether they have been vaccinated or not. However, this is early exploratory analysis and further targeted studies are needed to confirm whether this is the case.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been raising the same concern. Yesterday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNN that because fully vaccinated people who get a breakthrough infection of COVID-19 can transmit the virus, the agency changed its guidance last week — now recommending the wearing of masks at indoor public settings for even the fully vaxxed. “Our vaccines are working exceptionally well,” said Walensky. “They continue to work well for Delta, with regard to severe illness and death — they prevent it. But what they can’t do anymore is prevent transmission.”

The scientists at PHE are also looking into how effective vaccination is against the B.1.621 variant first detected in Colombia — yet to be declared a variant of concern. “There is preliminary laboratory evidence to suggest that vaccination and previous infection may be less effective at preventing infection with (B.1.621),” said the PHE statement. “However, this data is very limited and more research is required. There is no evidence to suggest that (it) is more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant.”

California Mandates Vaccine for Health-Care Workers, Trudeau Considering It for Federal Employees

With Walensky warning yesterday that if more Americans don’t get vaccinated and mask up, the country could soon see “several hundred thousand cases a day,” California moved to mandate vaccination for health-care workers. The California Department of Public Health issued the order Thursday, requiring all of its roughly 2.2 million health-care workers and long-term care workers be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 — with exceptions for declining the vaccine because of a religious belief or, for people who cannot be inoculated because of a qualifying medical reason. The move comes as the state sees its fastest increase in new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, averaging 18.3 new cases per 100,000 people a day.

Also yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s considering a vaccine mandate for some federally regulated workplaces. With almost six million eligible Canadians still not having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Trudeau said, “That’s why I’ve asked the clerk of the Privy Council, who is responsible for the federal public service, to look at mandatory vaccinations for federal employees.”

“And we’re also looking at federally regulated industries, to encourage or perhaps even to mandate vaccinations for those industries.”

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 5, 2021

Moderna Booster Produces “Robust” Response Against Delta

Drug maker Moderna said Thursday that its COVID-19 vaccine remained 93 per cent effective through six months after the second shot — just shy of the 94 per cent efficacy reported in its original clinical trial. Despite this, the pharma has three booster candidates in Phase 2 trials, saying that they have all so far produced “robust antibody responses” against Delta and other variants of concern. The boosters are being tested at a 50 microgram dose — half the strength of the current shot. Pfizer, which also uses mRNA technology for its COVID-19 vaccine, is expected to seek authorization for its own booster in the coming month. Results released last week showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine waned in efficacy by about six per cent every two months to 84 per cent six months after the second shot.

WHO Appeals for More First Doses Before Boosters

France will roll out COVID-19 boosters to elderly and vulnerable residents starting in September. “A third dose will likely be necessary, not for everyone straightaway, but in any case for the most vulnerable and the most elderly,” said President Emmanuel Macron on his Instagram account. And Germany’s Ministry of Health has said that boosters will be offered to immunocompromised patients, the very elderly and nursing home residents starting in September. This despite an appeal from the World Health Organization for nations to hold off on boosters until at least the end of September, giving more time — and more supply— over to getting more first doses administered globally. “I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.

According to the WHO, high-income countries administered around 50 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine for every 100 people in May — and the number has since doubled — whereas low-income countries have only administered 1.5 doses for every 100 people. Canada currently sits eighth in the world for doses administered, with 133 per 100 people, on The New York Times’ global vaccine tracker. Tied for last on the ranking are Congo and Haiti, with 0.1 doses administered per 100 people.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 4, 2021

Tokyo Tells People With Mild Symptoms to Stay Home

As Canadians celebrate a gold-medal finish in mens 200 metre this morning — the second medal this Olympics from sprint star Andre De Grasse, Tokyo officials reported 4,166 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday — a new single-day record. Japan’s Health Minister Norihisa Tamur said that the Delta variant is leading to spread “unseen in the past.” The government introduced a new policy, asking patients with mild to moderate symptoms to isolate at home rather than go to hospital. “The pandemic has entered a new phase … Unless we have enough beds, we can’t bring people to hospital. We’re acting pre-emptively on this front,” Tamura told parliament Wednesday. New cases in Japan’s capital have more than tripled since the beginning of the Games, and the number of patients isolating at home in the Olympic host city is now reported to be 14,000 — more than a 10-fold increase from last month.

Less Canadians Think Worst Is Over

A week in to the Tokyo 2020 Games and more than 60 per cent of Canadians said it was still relevant to hold major competitions such as the Olympics, showed results from a new poll released Wednesday by Leger. The survey, conducted with 1,532 people from July 30 to Aug. 1, also suggests that more Canadians feel the worst of the pandemic is not yet over. Whereas 63 per cent said the worst of the COVID crisis was behind us last month, that number decreased to 54 per cent this month. Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque attributes the nine per cent dip to concern over the Delta variant. “We are seeing an impact of all the talk around the Delta variant,” he said. “It is scaring some Canadians.”

And as Manitoba becomes the latest province to drop its mask mandate, announcing Monday that most of remaining pandemic restrictions will be lifted by Saturday, the Leger survey suggests that close to two-thirds of residents aren’t yet ready. When asked if governments should lift all restrictions related to COVID-19 now, 73 per cent of respondents said no — with less, but still 58 per cent of residents in Manitoba and Saskatchewan saying no, and 12 per cent saying they didn’t know.

—Tara Losinski


Aug. 3, 2021

COVID-19 Fears in Tokyo

Despite the news from the Summer Games today that Greece has withdrawn four artistic swimming athletes after they tested positive for COVID-19, Olympic officials in Tokyo are still claiming their “bubble system,” a rigorous set of  measures that separate athletes in the village and at events, is working effectively. “Considering the circumstances I think we’ve been pretty successful, very successful for the midpoint,” Mark Adams, a spokesperson of the International Olympic Committee, told the Japan Times. “Of course, it’s not over until it’s over.”

On Monday, Olympic officials said that of the daily COVID-19 tests administered on athletes since the games began, only 32 of the over 10,000 attending have tested positive. This, despite the fact that the virus is surging in the host city of Tokyo, with over 4,000 new cases reported Sunday, prompting city officials to extend a state of emergency to all areas where events are taking place. It’s all adding to fears that the Olympics could become a massive superspreader event, despite the best efforts of officials to keep athletes socially distanced and contain possible virus outbreaks. An abstract of a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia before the Games suggested that the organizing committee’s COVID-19 protocols plans “appear inadequate and infeasible for the task.” With the Games set to wrap up on Aug. 8, it appears likely, at this point, that they will be allowed to continue to the end. However, the rising spread of the virus could disrupt the Paralympic Games, which are set to open on Aug. 24, in Tokyo.

—Peter Muggeridge


July 30, 2021

No Place Like Home

After nearly two years on the road, tonight the Toronto Blue Jays will finally return to Canada to play their first “home” game in nearly two years. “See y’all soon,” tweeted pitcher Ryan Borucki. “Toronto, here we come,” added outfielder Randal Grichuk. The excitement among the players is echoed by Jays fans, who finally have the chance to see their boys of summer take the field at Rogers Centre for the first time since Sept. 29, 2019. When the pandemic struck last spring, the team was forced to abandon Toronto and, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closures, play its “home games” in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y. “I really feel like it’s going to be a celebratory moment for the country, for the city, one that we’re excited to share,” said an enthused Mark Shapiro, the team’s president and CEO. “We’re excited for our players to feel what it means to represent a country and how incredible Toronto is as a city.”  Fans will finally get an opportunity to see the team’s two young break-out stars – Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette – live and in person as well as cheering the team as it makes its playoff push. Due to local health restrictions, capacity in the Rogers Centre will be limited to 30 per cent, or 15,000 fans. According to the Jays’ website, each fan will undergo “symptom screening” before they enter the park and they will have to wear an approved mask at all times. No word yet on whether fans will be able to sing along to the “Ok, Blue Jays” song, a 7th-inning stretch tradition that dates back to 1983.

—Peter Muggeridge


July 29, 2021

Pfizer Claims Booster Shot “Likely”

With the Delta strain of COVID-19 spreading quickly in the U.S. and Europe, and beginning to make its presence felt here, health officials around the world have begun discussing the possibility of rolling out a third dose of vaccine. Some experts deem that this “booster” shot will be necessary to battle the Delta variant, which is thought to be far more contagious than the original strain.

Yesterday, the U.S.-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer suggested that because of “waning” immunity among those who have received both vaccines, its internal data also suggests that a booster shot provides much better protection against the Delta strain. Releasing its research (which was not published in a medical journal nor was it peer-reviewed), Pfizer noted a “100-fold increase in Delta neutralization” in those who had received the booster. “We continue to believe it is likely that a third-dose booster may be needed within six to 12 months after full vaccination to maintain the highest level of protection,” said Dr. Mikael Dolsten, a researcher for Pfizer. The company has already begun talks with U.S. drug regulators about speeding up approval for its third dose.

Canadian health officials are following these developments closely. In early June, the Public Health Agency of Canada downplayed the need for a third shot, stating that, “there is currently no evidence on the need for booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine after the vaccine series is complete.” However, as the Delta variant began to get a foothold, the health agency nuanced it’s previous stance, adding that a “subsequent vaccination” rollout was now “possible.” It further added that, given the emergence of variants of concern, “additional vaccine doses may be necessary.”

Back in April, when Canada’s Procurement Minister Anita Anand was asked whether the federal government was negotiating contracts to purchase potential booster shots, she would only say that, “we are actively planning for 2022.”

—Peter Muggeridge


July 28, 2021

Tokyo Sees Surge in New COVID-19 Cases

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will continue despite concerns that the host city is experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases. Yesterday, Tokyo health officials reported 3,000 new cases of the virus, the highest one-day total since the pandemic began last year. Of the new infections, 155 have been reported in the Olympic Village, which houses 11,000 athletes from all over the world who are gathered to compete at the games. With only a quarter of its population having received both doses, Japan has a low vaccination rate compared to countries like Canada and health officials there are worried that this may allow for the rapid spread of the new Delta variant. Complicating matters is the fact that many young people in Japan have declined to be vaccinated. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged residents to avoid gathering to watch outdoor events and to get their doses. “Please make sure to avoid non-essential outings and observe basic anti-infection measures,” Koike said, adding that, “I would like younger people to get vaccinated,”  But Koike’s message doesn’t appear to be getting through to the to a country that’s focussed on the games. “Public officials in Tokyo and throughout the country need to speak more clearly, but the message isn’t getting across because of the Olympics,” said Koji Wada, who advises the government on pandemic measures. Japanese officials have so far made no public mention of cancelling the games. In a discussion with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Koike noted that despite the surge in new cases, both agreed “that the Tokyo Olympics are going very smoothly.”

—Peter Muggeridge


July 27, 2021

France Legislates Vaccine Passports

The parliament of France has passed a law that will make “vaccine passports” mandatory for many French citizens. Under the new law, people will require a health pass – proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test – if they want to board a plane or train or visit a cinema, bar or nightclub or visit the Eiffel Tower. The law also requires all health-care workers and caregivers to receive a full vaccination by the end of September, or risk losing their job. The move was made to combat the rise of a new wave of COVID-19, as France struggles to contain outbreaks of the Delta variant. “The world is facing a new wave and we must act,” said French Prime Minister Jean Castex, defending the controversial “Health Pass.” The legislation touched off major protests around the country, with many accusing French President Emmanuel Macron of creating a “health dictatorship” and arguing that the the law violates personal civil liberties. Many countries are mulling similar mandates that would require people to show proof of vaccination if they want to travel, attend a concert, dine out or travel. Yesterday, documents leaked from a Federal Treasury Board meeting suggest that the federal government is planning to legislate a vaccine passport law in Canada by December.

Report Shows Vaccine’s Effectiveness

A new national health report reveals that the overwhelming majority of all  COVID-19 diagnoses and deaths are occurring among those who haven’t been vaccinated. In its weekly Epidemiology Report, the Public Health Agency of Canada presents stark numbers that emphasize just how effective vaccines are at protecting us from hospitalizations and death. Since the start of the vaccination campaign in mid-December, the report notes that there have been more that 550,000 people diagnosed with COVID-19, 89.7 per cent of whom had not been vaccinated. Moreover, of the 7,092 deaths that have occurred since the campaign began, 5,836 were among people who had not received any vaccine. So far, only 82 deaths have occurred among those who have received both doses. These numbers are leading many health experts to suggest that the fourth wave of the pandemic will occur largely in those who haven’t received their doses. “The next wave is going to be primarily experienced by unvaccinated people,” Dr. Colin Furness, an epidemiologist from University of Toronto, told Global News. “Unvaccinated people are everybody’s problem,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of easily avoidable illness and death.”

—Peter Muggeridge


July 26, 2021

What Would a 4th Wave Look Like?

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 beginning to make its presence felt in Canada (there are now over 4,000 cases reported across the country),  experts are predicting that while a new wave may be on the horizon, it likely won’t be as devastating as the previous three waves. The Delta variant, which has already become a cause for concern in the U.S., Britain and Israel, is thought to be more highly contagious than previous strains of the virus but results in fewer hospitalizations and deaths. And, according to a recent study, its worst effects will be far less severe in those who have been fully vaccinated. A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine shared the promising news that the current vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca were highly effective in combatting the worst symptoms of the Delta variant. However, there is growing concern that while the new variant may not cause as many hospitalizations or deaths as the previous strains, its spread will likely still cause disruptions to society. “We should not be surprised if the Delta variant starts to increase quite substantially and we should not be surprised if we have to go back to some level of travel and other restrictions,” Dr. Allison McGeer, a medical microbiologist from Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, told CBC. Speaking about the new variant, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam emphasized that the best way to limit its severity is to get both doses of the vaccines into as many arms as possible as quickly as possible. “I want to see us going past the 75 per cent mark and shoot for as close to 100 per cent as possible,” said Tam.

New Rules for International Travellers to Canada

A new measure currently undergoing discussion could see international passengers arriving at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport separated into different groups, depending on their vaccination status. “Passengers entering Canada from the U.S. or another international destination may be split into vaccinated and non/partially-vaccinated queues prior to reaching Canada Customs,” said Beverly MacDonald, a spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. “This is a measure to help streamline the border clearance process as there are different entry requirements for vaccinated and non/partially-vaccinated travellers,” she continued. Effective Aug. 9, passengers arriving in Canada will have to provide a test showing that they are COVID-free as well as papers proving they have received both vaccinations. When the new rules go into effect, qualifying travellers to Canada will not have to stay at the dreaded “quarantine hotels” but they still must present a “quarantine plan” upon arrival. Those who know someone travelling to Canada should warn them to stay abreast of the rapidly changing border policies at the Canada Border Services Agency website.

—Peter Muggeridge


July 23, 2021

COVID-19 Cases Escalate in Tokyo as Olympics Begin

The Tokyo Olympics opened today even as COVID-19 cases in the country are quickly escalating. Tokyo health officials reported 1,979 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest one-day total in six months. The number of cases linked to the Tokyo Olympics has risen to 91, compared to 55 at the beginning of the week. Only one in 4 people in Japan have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

US in ‘Another Pivotal Moment’ as Delta Variant Drives Surge in COVID Cases

The US is “at another pivotal moment in this pandemic” as rising COVID-19 cases are driven by the Delta variant and some hospitals are filling up — especially in areas with low vaccination rates — government officials warned on Thursday.

However, the U.S. government did not change its guidance on mask wearing, despite debates going on in the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about whether those who have been vaccinated should once again be officially advised to wear masks indoors to prevent the spread.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said that the Delta variant of coronavirus “is now spreading with incredible efficiency” in the US and that, compared with the original coronavirus strain that broke out in the US in early 2020, this variant is “more aggressive.”

Eight-Week Gap Between Pfizer Doses Seen as “Sweet Spot”

A longer gap between doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine leads to higher overall antibody levels than a shorter gap, a British study found on Friday, but there is a sharp drop in antibody levels after the first dose, reports Reuters.

“For the longer dosing interval … neutralizing antibody levels against the Delta variant were poorly induced after a single dose, and not maintained during the interval before the second dose,” the authors of the study, which is being led by the University of Oxford, said.

“Following two vaccine doses, neutralizing antibody levels were twice as high after the longer dosing interval compared with the shorter dosing interval.”

Neutralizing antibodies are thought play an important role in immunity against the coronavirus, but not the whole picture, with T-cells also playing a part.

The study found overall T cell levels were 1.6 times lower with a long gap compared with the short dosing schedule of 3-4 weeks, but that a higher proportion were “helper” T-cells with the long gap, which support long-term immune memory.

The authors emphasized that either dosing schedule produced a strong antibody and T-cell response in the study of 503 healthcare workers.

The findings, issued as a pre-print, support the view that while a second dose is needed to provide full protection against Delta, delaying that dose might provide more durable immunity, even if that’s at the cost of protection in the short-term.

“I think the 8-week is about the sweet spot,” Susanna Dunachie, joint chief investigator on the study, told reporters.

Cases Surge in Indonesia and Mexico

Indonesia is reporting 1,566 new coronavirus deaths, the biggest one-day increase on record, and 49,071 new cases. This compares with the 45,343 new cases in the U.S. reported yesterday. And yet, the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. was much lower at 252, proof that vaccines can prevent death; 49 per cent of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated while only 6.9 per cent of the population in Indonesia is fully vaccinated. In Canada , 52.9 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Mexico reports 16,244 new coronavirus cases, the biggest one-day increase since January, and 419 new deaths.

Quarantine Required Again for Travellers from Australia to New Zealand

New Zealand is shutting down  the quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia for two months, following several serious outbreaks of COVID-19.

New Zealand had already paused travel with the states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The new pause applies to all of Australia for the next eight weeks.

At a press briefing today, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said because of the Delta variant there was “greater risk now … than when we opened the travel bubble”.

“COVID has changed and so must we.”

The New Zealand government held an urgent cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss the decision.

“Pingdemic” in Britain Disrupting Everyday Life and Economy

Britain has been experiencing a “pingdemic” as more than 600,000 people have been “pinged” on their phones with a government app warning them that they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and must isolate for 10 days. The so-called pingdemic has caused staff shortages and delivery problems, leading to a dwindling food supply and emptying supermarket shelves.

British Study: Testing as Effective as Isolation for Secondary School Students

A study by the University of Oxford has found that daily testing of secondary school students who were in contact with someone with COVID-19 was just as effective in controlling school transmission as the current 10-day contact isolation policy.

The study ran between April and June 2021. The results were published today in pre-print.

Over 200,000 students and 20,000 staff participated. Half of the schools continued a standard policy of routine mass testing, and isolation for close contacts of positive cases for 10 days. The second group of schools invited close contacts of positive cases to come to school and take lateral flow tests in a supervised school testing site over 7 days. Those who chose to do so were released from isolation to attend school or college if they tested negative for COVID-19. Around half of all eligible students and staff chose to do daily testing. Close contacts, from either group of the study, were invited to provide a research PCR test for COVID-19 on day 2 and 7 following contact, in order to determine how many close contacts became infected.

There was no evidence that the rate of students and staff developing COVID-19 with symptoms was different in the group doing daily testing compared to the contact group.

The findings of this study are good news for students, parents and teachers, said David Eyre, Oxford associate professor and investigator on the study. “The study supports earlier findings from Test and Trace data showing that most children who are in contact with COVID-19 in schools don’t go on to get infected. Daily testing was able to identify most of the small number that do, which allowed them to safely isolate at home, while allowing the large majority of other students and staff to remain in school. Reassuringly too, rates of infection in school staff were lower than those in students.”

Judy Gerstel


July 22, 2021

Make Vaccines Mandatory for Health-Care Workers?

Italy, France and Greece have made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for people who work in health care. Will Canada be next? “It is coming time for us to really put protocols into place to ensure health workers are vaccinated. It’s unfair to patients who are receiving care in a variety of settings, that they are potentially being cared for by unvaccinated health workers,” Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and lecturer at the University of Toronto, told the Toronto Star.

Both the Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario have called for vaccines to be mandatory for health-care workers in the province. But, as the CBC reports, Premier Doug Ford said last week that those workers have a “constitutional right” to opt out of vaccination (the province already has mandated immunization policies for long-term care staff). However, compulsory vaccination would likely not be considered a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it would be in the best interest of everyone, Tracey Tremayne-Lloyd, a health law specialist and founder of TTL Health Law told the Star. “What they’re trying to do is protect the citizens of the country from this deadly virus. And you are in a job where you can get it and transmit it,” she said.

As the Star report points out, only Quebec has mandated vaccination for staff in certain hospitals, saying frequent COVID testing or unpaid leave could be a consequence of not getting immunized. And in B.C., where more than 80 per cent of eligible residents have already had at least one dose, the province said this month that it is still considering making vaccination mandatory for long-term care workers.

Biden Frustrated by Vaccination Slow Down as Cases Nearly Tripple

New cases of COVID-19 have nearly tripled over the past two weeks in the U.S., and Wednesday President Joe Biden expressed frustration over people who are refusing to get vaccinated. “There’s legitimate questions people can ask if they worry about getting vaccinated, but the question should be asked, answered and people should get vaccinated,” said Biden yesterday in Ohio at a town hall hosted by CNN.

The country’s vaccination rates have seemed to stall, with only 57 per cent of eligible Americans fully vaccinated despite an abundance of domestically produced vaccines. And last week, with cases up 70 per cent over the previous week, and deaths up 26 per cent, most of the increases were in counties with below average vaccination rates, said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky. “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said, adding that 97 per cent of new COVID-19 hospitalizations were unvaccinated people.

The U.S. has experienced the highest toll from the coronavirus, with more than 625,000 recorded deaths and more than 35 million cases — reporting 56,525 new infections yesterday. Top health and White House officials are reported to be considering mask-wearing recommendations for fully vaccinated Americans, after the CDC said earlier this year that is was unnecessary, to help control the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.

—Tara Losinski


July 21, 2021

U.S. Land Border Remains Shut 

Days after Canada announced a reopening of the border to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9, the U.S. said Wednesday that tourist crossing will remain one-way for at least another month. A notice from the U.S. Federal Register stated that, while vaccination rates have improved, opening the land border to non-essential travel still poses too high a risk. “Given the outbreak and continued transmission and spread of COVID-19 within the United States and globally, the Secretary has determined that the risk of continued transmission and spread of the virus associated with COVID-19 between the United States and Canada poses an ongoing specific threat to human life or national interests,” read the government notice. The ban on non-essential travel, set to expire at midnight, has been extended until Aug. 21.

Canada surpassed the U.S. this week on vaccination rates, with 51 per cent of the population now having received two shots, as compared to 48 per cent of Americans who are considered fully vaccinated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC does not recognize those with mixed doses as fully vaccinated. But even when comparing proportion of the population with at least one dose, Canada still outpaces the U.S., with nearly 70 per cent of Canadians having one shot as compared to 56 per cent of Americans having one received one dose.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, blames politics for the U.S. lag. “Canada is doing better not because we are trying any less than they are trying. It’s because in Canada you don’t have that divisiveness of people not wanting to get vaccinated, in many respects, on the basis of ideology and political persuasion,” he said in the interview with CNN Monday.

“I mean, political differences are totally understandable and a natural part of the process in any country. But when it comes to a public health issue, in which you’re in the middle of a deadly pandemic and the common enemy is the virus, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Case Count Not Most Important Thing at Olympics, Says WHO

As the number of Games-related COVID-19 cases in Japan hit 79 Wednesday, the head of the World Health Organization is focused on how infections are managed rather than on how many there are. “The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible and onward transmission is interrupted,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a speech to an International Olympic Committee meeting. “The mark of success in the coming fortnight is not zero cases.”

But Tokyo, location of the athlete’s village where most of the 11,000 international competitors will stay, is at the same time responding to a six-month high surge of COVID-19, reporting 1,832 new cases today. The city is under its fourth state of emergency since the pandemic, and vaccination rates across the country are still low — only about 23 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. “What we have worried about is now actually happening,” Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa said at a weekly news conference. “The surge in cases has been expected whether we have the Olympics or not, and we are afraid that there will be an explosive increase in cases regardless of the Olympics.”

As the world watches and holds its breath over the next two weeks, hoping that the rescheduled 2020 Summer Games doesn’t become a super spreader event, in his speech Wednesday Tedros said there is no “zero risk in life,” and that Japan is “giving courage to the whole world.”

—Tara Losinski


July 20, 2021

Half of Canadians Still Wary of Border Reopening

With the government announcing yesterday that Canada will open its border to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9, and to fully vaccinated international travellers on Sept. 7, a new Leger poll suggests that half of Canadians aren’t ready for at least the first stage of reopening. When asked if they support a full reopening at the end of August, 52 per cent of respondents in a survey of 1,529 people, taken July 16 to 18, said they opposed the move. And as for what condition they needed met to feel comfortable with people entering the country, 14 per cent of those surveyed said entry should be limited to essential work, humanitarian and other emergencies only, another 16 per cent said a negative test before entry was enough, five per cent said that visitors should have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 66 per cent said people crossing the border needed to be fully vaccinated.

And on the subject of vaccination, 71 per cent of the poll’s respondents said that flying should require a vaccine passport (66 said train travel should), and when asked about what they would be comfortable doing knowing that unvaccinated persons could be present, attending an outdoor gathering won out, with 73 per cent, while only 37 per cent of Canadians said it would be getting on a plane. Looks like some of us will be road tripping for a while yet, and within Canada since the U.S. has yet to lift its restriction on Canadian tourists crossing at land borders and is expected to extend the ban again this month.

Big Cruise Lines Won’t Recognize Mixed Doses as Fully Vaxxed

Now for those who are comfortable with flying to the U.S., cruising out of the country may pose a problem. As the Toronto Star reports, Royal Caribbean updated its requirements Friday to state that guests who have used mixed immunization protocols will not be considered fully vaccinated, and thus not be permitted to board. Same goes for Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line, with both changing their policies to reflect the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of being fully vaccinated: “COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable; the safety and effectiveness of receiving two different COVID-19 vaccines has not been studied.”

In a statement earlier this month, the WHO warned that such restrictions on travellers would “effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide,” with the agency urged “all regional, national and local government authorities to recognise as fully vaccinated all people who have received COVID-19 vaccines that have been deemed safe and effective by the World Health Organization.” Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the federal government is working on an internationally recognized proof of vaccination for Canadians, with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc saying Thursday that details would be made available “over the coming weeks and months,” including for those Canadians who were fully vaccinated with mixed doses.

—Tara Losinski


July 19, 2021

Canada Overtakes U.S. Vaccination Rates

According to figures from COVID-19 Tracker Canada, nearly 57 per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated as of Monday morning. After a slow start, the country has overtaken the U.S., with CDC data showing that 48.6 of Americans have gotten two shots. Canada also has a higher proportion of the population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 79.8 per cent as of this morning, compared to 56 per cent in the U.S.

Calgary Stampede a Success, Say Organizers

With the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” closing out its 10-day run Sunday, officials are claiming success, “no matter how you measure it.” With no international visitors and attendance cut by half, the Calgary Stampede still saw about 50,000 guests a day this year — although 88 per cent were Albertans with 12 per cent of attendees coming from out-of-province. “We have done what we said we would do. Show the world that we can open our doors to a new and more positive tomorrow,” said the president and chairman of the Stampede board, Steve McDonough.

While masks are no longer mandatory in the province, event workers were required to wear them while on shift.  The midway rides were operated to allow for physical distancing, and entry into the Nashville North music tent and beer garden required a proof of vaccination or a negative rapid test, with organizers reporting that 73 per cent of the 60, 000 Nashville North guests choosing the former, while the rest chose the latter — with 18 people being sent home after testing positive for COVID-19. Premier Jason Kenney took to Twitter Sunday with some more back-patting, saying, “What a great Stampede! Such a joy to connect with Albertans during Canada’s first major event after the pandemic.”

American Athlete Latest to Test Positive in Tokyo

With four days to go before the rescheduled 2020 Summer Games are set to start, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced Monday that an alternate of the women’s gymnastics team has tested positive for COVID-19, without confirming the athlete’s name. “In alignment with local rules and protocols, the athlete has been transferred to a hotel to quarantine. Out of respect for the individual’s privacy, we cannot provide more information at this time,” read a USOPC statement.

Tokyo Olympic officials had already confirmed earlier Monday that a third athlete — a beach volleyball player from the Czech Republic — had tested positive. And on Sunday, the British Olympic Association confirmed that six of their athletes and two staff members were isolating after coming into close contact with someone on their flight to Japan who had since tested positive for COVID-19. All eight tested negative at the airport and are now under the supervision of the British delegation’s medical team.

Also on Sunday, two South African men’s soccer players were confirmed as having tested positive. along with a video analyst for the team. South Africa’s first game is set for Thursday against the home team of Japan. Support for the games are low in the host country, with reports that two-thirds of Japanese citizens doubting that a safe Games can be held during the pandemic.

—Tara Losinski


July 16, 2021

Border Restrictions to Ease by Mid-August

If COVID-19 infection rates remain at their current level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that Canada could begin welcoming travellers from the U.S. by mid-August, and from around the world by mid-September. A readout of meeting Trudeau had yesterday with the provincial first ministers notes that if “our current positive path of vaccination rate and public health conditions continue,” Canada will start “allowing fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents into Canada as of mid-August for non-essential travel.” According to the readout, the premiers applauded the plans to cautiously reopen land border crossings between the two nations, which have been closed to all but essential travel for 16 months. Although vaccine passports weren’t mentioned, the premiers discussed the need to work “collaboratively on a proof of vaccination credential, and prioritizing work to implement a system that would enable Canadians to travel internationally with confidence.” The easing of border restrictions is good news for families with relatives in the U.S., many of whom have been separated since the borders were closed. And it’s a dose of good news for tourist-related businesses that have been hit hard during the border closures.

Ontario Reopens

Today, Ontario moves into Step 3 of its opening plan, meaning that many previously banned indoor venues – such as museums, gyms, casinos, cinemas, and theatres – will finally be able to open their doors to patrons. Ontarians will also be able to dine and drink indoors at restaurants and bars. And the number of people who can attend outdoor gatherings have also been extended.There will be limits on capacity as businesses must insure that customers are socially distanced. Step 3 comes several days earlier than expected thanks to the province reaching the milestone of 75 per cent of its residents having received at least one vaccine dose.  (A full list of the relaxed restrictions are available on the government website.) Premier Doug Ford posted a congratulatory note to Ontarians on Twitter, noting that he’s “thankful for each and every one of you. You have gone above and beyond. This has been a long journey for everyone and despite the challenges you faced, you remained strong and resilient.” And Health Minister Christine Elliot tweeted her gratitude to front-line workers who helped us through the worst of the pandemic: “Thanks to our #HealthCareHeroes and every Ontarian who has gotten their shot, we can get back to the things we’ve missed like going to a concert or eating indoors at your favourite restaurant.”

Peter Muggeridge

July 15, 2021

Elderly Quebecers May Get Third Dose

To prepare for a possible new wave of COVID-19, the Quebec government is developing contingency plans to provide elderly and vulnerable adults with a third vaccine, this one to combat the Delta variant of the virus. The Montreal Gazette is reporting that health officials are discussing the possibility of a “booster” shot against the variant. The government of Israel recently announced it will provide a third dose to people with weak or compromised immune systems. The Gazette quoted a senior government official saying, “I don’t think they’re going to make any decisions for another few weeks. It’s still very early days in those conversations.” Health Minister Christian Dubé’s office would not comment on the report, other than saying, “all our efforts are currently focused on offering and promoting the second dose of the vaccine to Quebecers.” While case counts are low in Quebec and around the rest of the country, provincial health officials note that the majority of new infections are caused by the Delta variant.

Trudeau Signals Caution on Border Reopening

After months of declining infection rates, health officials on both sides of the border are carefully monitoring an uptick in new cases in the U.S., most of them caused by the Delta variant. The rise in infections may delay the July 21 deadline to reopen and borders between the two nations, which have been closed to all but essential travel for the past 16 months. In a press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that his government would take a “cautious approach” to the scheduled border reopening plans. “As eager as people are to open up, I know nobody wants to have to go backwards,” said Trudeau, adding that, “we know how unbelievably costly and heartbreaking it would be to fall into a fourth wave of this pandemic.” Right now, borders are open only to essential services, fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents. But there is growing pressure from tourist associations from both countries to fully reopen all land crossings, arguing that they’re missing out on billions of dollars in revenue. “Without travellers, there is no tourism industry. Reopen the border immediately to allow travellers to safely cross! ” reads a statement on the Tourism Industry Association of Canada‘s website, part of its #opentheborder social media campaign.

—Peter Muggeridge


July 14, 2021

Tokyo Reports Highest New Case Count in Six Months

A day after the Canadian Olympic Committee confirmed that it will be sending the country’s largest Olympic continent, 371 athletes, since the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games to Tokyo, on Wednesday the city reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases, 1,149, in nearly six months. The country also surpassed a grim milestone of more than 15,000 deaths from the coronavirus. With the postponed 2020 Summer Games opening in just nine days, a state of emergency for Tokyo and the surrounding area was extended last week, and Olympic organizers announced that no fans would be allowed at events in those areas. But in a statement yesterday, Canada’s Chef de Mission Marnie McBean was optimistically focused, praising athletes. “Despite the pandemic, through their creativity and perseverance, they have become the largest Canadian Olympic Team in three decades,” McBean said.  “In far less than ideal conditions, they have found a way to be faster and stronger than ever and I have no doubt that they are ready to reveal something special at Tokyo 2020.”

The French Want In

The Canadian border remains closed to foreigners, whether they’re vaxxed or not, and it’s not just the U.S. putting on the pressure for it to reopen. “The borders will have to be reopened relatively quickly now for us to put Canada back on our travel plans,” France’s Ambassador to Canada Kareen Rispal said Tuesday, warning of an eroding of relations. “The consequence of the border closure is that there are no more visits,” said Rispal. “There are no more ministers. There are no more parliamentarians. There are no more manufacturing visits. There are no more visits by artists … relationships need to be worked on every day, to nourish them.”

France has reopened to fully vaccinated Canadians, and the ambassador says as a fellow “green country” — one where COVID-19 is under control — French visitors should be given quid pro quo. “We would be very happy if the French could return to Canada without constraints other than being doubly vaccinated, taking tests, etc.,” said Rispal. “We aren’t asking to return to Canada in a haphazard way.”

But, as the Toronto Star reports, it’s expected that the border closure will be renewed for at least another month on July 21, with minor restriction changes — if any.

Feds Won’t Meddle in Domestic Vaccine Passports, Still Working on One for International Travel

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that although the federal government will work with provinces and territories for an “internationally accepted proof of vaccination” for travel, Ottawa won’t be stepping on their toes when it comes to domestic vaccine passports. “Different provinces will be doing different things, where the federal government has a role to play and where we are looking is in terms of vaccine certification for international travel,” Trudeau said Tuesday.

But there’s been no details about what an international travel passport will look like, although we know that Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners are concerned, jointly warning in May that while vaccine passports “may offer substantial public benefit, it is an encroachment on civil liberties that should be taken only after careful consideration.” In additional to privacy concerns, Canada also finds itself in the sticky situation of potentially having countries not recognize Canadians as fully vaccinated if they’ve mixed doses. The prime minister would only say yesterday that, “We’re going to work with the international community to make sure that people who are fully vaccinated in ways that Canadians recognize as safe and effective are also recognized around the world.” But even travelling domestically will require   proof of vaccination in the short term, with several provinces (including Manitoba, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador) only allowing fully vaccinated visitors, for now.

Venice to Keep Cruisers Out 

And speaking of travel, if cruising past St. Mark’s Square into Venice’s city centre was on your bucket list, you’re going to have to cross it out, rather than off. In what will be part of its new normal, Italy announced Tuesday that the “Floating City” will no longer be accepting cruises — instead the big ships will dock on the mainland. The Italian government is calling the ban, which takes effect Aug. 1, “an important step for the safeguarding of the Venetian lagoon.” The ban applies to ships more than 25,000 tons, with lengths of more than 180 metres, and the cost to construct new docking facilities at the industrial port of Marghera will be a whopping €157 million ($232 million). But the new law will protect the “environmental, artistic and cultural heritage of Venice,” said a government statement. The move comes little over a month after Venice was proposed to be added to the World Heritage in Danger list by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) — the presence of cruise ships given as part of the reason.

—Tara Losinski


July 13, 2021

Mixed Messaging on Mixing and Matching

The contradictory messaging around COVID-19 vaccine protocol continued yesterday, with the World Health Organization’s chief scientist cautioning that mixing vaccines is “a dangerous trend” for second doses and booster shots. “There is limited data on mix and match,” said Soumya Swaminathan during a virtual news conference Monday. “Maybe it will be a very good approach but at the moment we only have data on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine followed by Pfizer,” she added.

But not only have Canadians who got a first shot of AstraZeneca been advised to take the Pfizer vaccine as their second dose, they’ve also been advised to take whatever mRNA shot — Pfizer or Moderna — is available to them. And then there are those who took one of the two mRNA shots as their first dose, only to get a different one as their second — again, at the recommendation of Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization. And, if the Public Health Agency of Canada authorizes a booster, Pfizer is expected to request authorization of theirs, it could mean people getting yet a different vaccine as a third shot.

In Ontario, where for several weeks mRNA vaccines have been given interchangeably, and where residents who received AstraZeneca as a first shot can choose to take either Pfizer or Moderna as their second dose, officials responded to the WHO warning Monday, saying they’d continue with mixing doses. “Ontario continues to follow the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which recommends that it is safe to mix vaccines based on studies from the U.K., Spain and Germany that have found that mixing vaccines is safe and produces a strong immune response,” read a statement to CTV News from Carly Luis, the director of communications for Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Swaminathan, perhaps muddying the water further, clarified later on Monday via Twitter, saying, “Individuals should not decide for themselves, public health agencies can, based on available data.” But it was evidence, early data suggesting that mixing doses is safe and effective, on which NACI based its COVID-19 vaccine dose “interchangeability authorization” back at the beginning of June. And two weeks later, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), which advises the WHO, gave permissive recommendation to use Pfizer as a second dose if AstraZeneca was not available due to supply constraints or other concerns.

For the record, a U.K. study of attitudes about vaccination to protect against the coronavirus found that “communication of changing and conflicting messages from governments, health experts and the media have driven an increase in vaccine hesitancy among the general public.”

CDC Updates Johnson & Johnson Shot’s Potential Side Effect

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the labelling for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday to warn of the small possible risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome — a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. “Today, the FDA is announcing revisions to the vaccine recipient and vaccination provider fact sheets for the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 Vaccine to include information pertaining to an observed increased risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) following vaccination,” the regulator said in a statement sent to CNN, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement it has received reports of 100 people who got J&J’s Janssen shot developing Guillain-Barré, which can cause muscle weakness and occasionally paralysis. The risk is classified as small, with nearly 13 million Americans having received the one-dose vaccine, and most cases were reported in men — many aged 50 and old — and usually about two weeks after vaccination.

Guillain-Barré can be triggered by a number of infections — flu, cytomegalovirus and Zika — but there have been rare cases of people developing it after receiving certain vaccines. Although the J&J COVID shot is approved for use in Canada, the vaccine has yet to be used.

Canada Wasn’t Ready for What Hit

The final report from an independent review of Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) was released Monday, finding the group unprepared for the pandemic. The monitoring system, which scours the internet for reports of infectious diseases, was understaffed in the four years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, an independent panel has found. The failure in its surveillance was partly due to a missing chief health surveillance officer — the position had been vacant since 2017 — the report stated. The panel also found that a strategic surveillance plan created by the Public Health Agency of Canada had “never received formal approval.” A statement from Minister of Health Patty Hajdu said only that “it is critical that the lessons learned from our response to the pandemic help improve the tools in place to protect Canadians.” However, the opposition wants specifics on how the Liberal government will fix the GPHIN. “This scathing report shows once again the Liberal government was unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Michelle Rempel Garner, the Conservative health critic. “These failures lead to lost lives and the countless consequences of the pandemic.”

—Tara Losinski


July 12, 2021

Canada Catching up to U.S. Fully Vaxxed Rate

The federal government says it’s on track to reach 68 million shots by the end of July, and officials expect to have received more that 55 million doses in total by the week’s end. Ottawa expects another 1.4 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech to arrive in the next seven days, while it distributes to the provinces and territories 1.5 million doses delivered from Moderna on Friday. All this vaccine availability continues to shorten the wait between first and second COVID-19 shots and, as of Monday morning, 49.1 per cent of eligible Canadians (12 and over) have been fully vaccinated. In terms of total population, 42.7 per cent of Canadians are now fully inoculated — hot on the tail of the U.S.’s total, which the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts at 48 per cent. And according to the New York Times vaccine tracker, Canada is fifth in the world — behind the United Arab Emirates, Malta, Iceland and Chile — for proportion of the population with at least one dose, which is 78.9, according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada data.

COVID Surging in U.S. Hot Spots, Including Lowly Vaxxed States

The U.S. is averaging about 19,455 new cases a day, over the last seven days, a 47 per cent increase from the week prior. And as CNN reports, a third of those come from five hot spots: Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Nevada. And although close to half of all Americans are fully vaccinated, CDC data shows that rates dip to 35 per cent in at least two of those states — Arkansas and Louisiana — as well as in Alabama, Wyoming and Mississippi. As to whether vaccination should be mandated to help control spread, America’s top doc says yes — at the local level. “We’re talking about life and death situation. We’ve lost 600,000 Americans already, and we’re still losing more people. There’ve been 4 million deaths worldwide,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told CNN. “This is serious business.”

A Third of Canadians Not Yet Ready for U.S. Visitors

And speaking of Americans, a recent Nanos poll for the Globe and Mail suggests that a third of Canadians are still wary of letting our southern neighbours over the border. Polled between June 30 and July 5, 34 per cent of respondents said they would prefer the border would not be reopened until the fall. And the majority — 79 per cent — said public health is more important than the economy and jobs when it comes to making a decision on when to reopen. “If you’re a major business advocate for opening the border you have to realize that for average Canadians, they still think of the pandemic. They’re not thinking of jobs and the economy or vacationing in Florida,” said pollster Nik Nanos. As the Globe reports, Statistics Canada figures show that in 2019 — the year leading up to the pandemic — Canada saw a record 22.1 million foreign tourists, 15 million of whom were from the U.S.

—Tara Losinski


July 9, 2021

COVID-Free? Vaccinated? Prove It!

Vaccine “passports” — proof that you’re fully vaccinated — are starting to become a thing in some parts of Canada.

Some Quebecers have already started to receive their proof of vaccination in the form of a QR code in their emails, though they have no purpose yet, reports CTV. The Legault government plans to use proof of vaccination to limit people’s access to non-essential services, if the COVID-19 situation worsens in the fall. By fall, businesses are expected to have access to a smartphone app that will be able to scan a person’s QR code, health minister Christian Dubé said Thursday. He emphasized that the rollout of the vaccine passport will not happen until all eligible Quebecers have had a chance to receive two doses of the vaccine, which is estimated to happen around Sept. 1. It will not be used, however, for access to public or essential services but could be used to limit access to places like bars, gyms, contact sports and other activities deemed “high” or “moderate” risk.

Also, Manitoba is now offering an immunization card for people who are fully immunized. When requested, a digital card that can be carried on a mobile device will be created automatically. If a physical card is requested, it should arrive in the mail within two weeks. These cards will include first and last names and a QR code. When scanned with the Manitoba Immunization Card app, the QR code will show that a person is fully vaccinated.

In both Ontario and British Columbia, digital copies of confirmation of vaccination are available online. In Ontario, a digital copy is accessible at

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Calgary Stampede will be the first major Canadian event to ask attendees for proof of COVID vaccination or for a rapid test, according to the Globe and Mail. The Stampede’s Nashville North will become the first major venue in Canada to require proof of vaccination, or a COVID-19 rapid test, before revellers are allowed to enter the site known for its live country music and large crowds.

Trudeau Non-Committal on Border Opening

Remember when the “ugly American” wasn’t appreciated in Canada or anywhere else? Now the unvaccinated American — or tourist from any other country — is not welcome in Canada, says Prime Minister Trudeau. And they won’t be welcome in Canada “for quite awhile,” he said at a press conference Thursday. “The next step will be looking at what measures we can allow for international travellers who are fully vaccinated. That will be our first focus, and we will have more to say in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said, promising continued aid for the tourism businesses.

Earlier on Thursday, Ottawa business owners and the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable held a press conference imploring the federal government to put forward a plan that will allow the tourism sector to plan for what their summer travel season will look like. 

Soon We’ll Have to Scramble for a Third Shot 

Pfizer said Thursday it is seeing waning immunity from its coronavirus vaccine and says it is picking up its efforts to develop a booster dose that will protect people from variants. However, some scientists and regulatory agencies have questioned the need for a booster shot. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a joint statement that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster COVID-19 shot at this time, Reuters reports. And the European Medicines Agency said it was too early to determine whether more than the two shots that are currently required would be called for, saying it was confident for now that the established regimen was sufficient.

But Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten, said the reported dip in the vaccine’s effectiveness in Israel was mostly due to infections in people who had been vaccinated in January or February. Israel’s health ministry said vaccine effectiveness in preventing both infection and symptomatic disease fell to 64 per cent in June. “The Pfizer vaccine is highly active against the Delta variant,” Dolsten said in an interview with Reuters. But after six months, he said, “there likely is the risk of reinfection as antibodies, as predicted, wane. He stressed that data from Israel and Britain suggests that even with waning antibody levels, the vaccine remains around 95 per cent effective against severe disease.

Dolsten said he believes booster shots are particularly important in older age groups.

In Britain, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is already issuing guidance on potentially starting a booster shot campaign in about two months. “The JCVI’s interim advice is that, should a booster programme be required, a third COVID-19 vaccine dose should be offered to the most vulnerable first, starting from September 2021 to maximise individual protection and safeguard the NHS [National Health Service] ahead of winter,” said Prof. Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 chair for JCVI. The British committee recommends that those who are immunosuppressed, living in long-term care or retirement homes, people aged 70 years and older, and front-line health workers should be the first to get a third dose of a COVID vaccine, or booster shot. The U.K.’s targeted approach to booster shots is “spot on,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Allison McGeer, told the CBC. “People who live in long-term care facilities, people who are immunocompromised, do generate lower antibody levels and they decline faster over time,” McGeer said. “There are likely to be some of those people who will not be well-protected come October or November and who might be better protected if they get an extra dose of vaccine.”

—Judy Gerstel


July 8, 2021

Fans Banned at Tokyo Olympic Events

All spectators will be banned from the Tokyo venues at the 2020 Olympic Games, Japan’s Olympics Committee announced today. Japan also declared that a pandemic state of emergency for Tokyo will run throughout the event. The games are set to begin on July 23. Japan is holding the Olympics despite warnings from many public health professionals that they should be postponed again, or called off. Banning spectators comes after the International Olympic Committee already enacted strict protocols that limit the number of athletes and coaches who can travel to Tokyo.

Kim Gaucher, a Canadian basketball player, had to fight to bring her breastfeeding 3-month-old to the games after Japanese authorities imposed a no-friends-or-family rule. “Right now, I’m being forced to decide between being a breastfeeding mom or an Olympic athlete” Gaucher had said in June. “I can’t have them both.” But Gaucher won her battle and the Tokyo organizers are now allowing nursing mothers to bring their children to the Games.

Despite the restrictions, two national teams — Uganda and Serbia — arrived with members testing positive for COVID-19.

More Than 50% of Ontario Adults Fully Vaccinated

The province’s latest figures show that about 78.6 per cent of adults have had at least one dose of vaccine, while more than 51 per cent have had both shots, reports the CBC. Or to put it another way: one in five Ontario adults have not had even a first dose of the vaccine. The rates of at least first vaccination for people over 40 range from 75.8 per cent, for people in their 40s, to 96.1 per cent for people age 80 and over. The lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates are among the youngest eligible age groups. About 67 per cent of those aged 18 to 29 have had at least one dose, along with 59 per cent of youth aged 12 to 17.

The uptake of first shots has slowed considerably in Ontario in recent weeks, prompting calls for the province to better integrate family doctors into its immunization campaign. During a press briefing this morning, Ontario health minister Christine Elliott said the focus of the rollout would shift from mass clinics to primary care settings in coming weeks as they to reach adults who have not yet had a first shot but could be open to receiving one. That group represents roughly 10 to 15 per cent of adults in the province, officials said.


Limits on Shoppers in Stores in Quebec to be Lifted

Beginning Monday, stores in Quebec will no longer be required to limit the number of people inside. Face masks will still be mandatory in indoor public places. And stores will still be required to manage traffic on their premises so that customers are one metre apart. The province announced the new measures yesterday. Physical distancing of one metre is now the requirement for all activities, except for “singing activities and for high intensity exercise in gyms,” the ministry of health said in a news release. As well, in venues with fixed seating for an audience, whether indoors or outdoors, there has to be one empty seat between people from different residences.

The loosening of restrictions is a result of a decreasing number of COVID-19 cases in the province and an increase in vaccinations. As of yesterday, more than 80 per cent of the eligible population has received one dose of a vaccine, while 39 per cent of people have been fully vaccinated.

Canadian Children and Youth More likely to Have Had COVID Than Adults

Canadians 19 and younger, not older people, had the highest rates of COVID-19 infection, although they were often not aware of it, Statistics Canada reports about research completed in the spring. In about one-third of cases, those infections were asymptomatic. The research, reported yesterday, collected blood samples from more than 11,000 Canadians age one and over; residents of long-term care and retirement homes were not included. The research was completed before the third wave of the pandemic and before vaccines were readily available. Overall, 3.6 per cent, or fewer than 1 in 25 Canadians, had COVID-19 antibodies in their blood from a previous infection or vaccination.

Researchers also found that visible minorities, young and old, were more than twice as likely to have had past infections leading up to the third wave as compared to other Canadians.

Epidemiologist Catherine Hankins, who co-chairs the federal COVID Immunity Task Force that funded the antibody research, told the Ottawa Citizen that she was surprised people over 60 who participated had the lowest rates of antibodies due to infection. Just 1.4 per cent of participants aged 60 and over had antibodies indicating they had prior infections, compared to 3.3 per cent of children and youth 19 and younger. Among adults aged 20 to 59, the rate was 2.9 per cent. Hankins said the research shows that Canadians were vulnerable when the third wave, fuelled by the highly transmissible Alpha variant, hit in the spring. “We were not well prepared for the third wave,” she said.

The Canadians who participated in the study received a test kit in the mail so they could give blood samples from home by pricking their fingers. Albertans had the highest rates of antibodies due to previous infections — 4 per cent — followed by Quebec, at 3.2 per cent, Saskatchewan at 2.9 per cent and Ontario at 2.5 per cent. The Atlantic provinces had only 0.5 per cent seroprevalence due to past infection, and the numbers were too low to produce a statistical estimate in the territories. The data was collected between November 2020 and April 2021.

Severe Warnings About Lifting Restrictions in Britain

Lifting the remaining pandemic restrictions on July 19 in Britain is “dangerous and premature,” according to international scientists and doctors, who have called on the U.K. government to pause reopening until more people are vaccinated.

Writing in the Lancet, more than 100 global experts warn that removing restrictions this month will cause millions of infections and risk creating a generation with chronic health problems and disability from COVID, the impact of which may be felt for decades. Government scientists expect cases of COVID-19 to soar in the summer months — even without the further easing of restrictions. On Wednesday, the U.K. reported more than 30,000 new cases for the first time since January, and an increase of more than 40 per cent in hospital admissions and deaths.

However, the Guardian reports that government sources have said further delay or U-turn is not on the cards, but they expect to come under increasing pressure in the coming days to change course. “I think we’d only be looking at further delay if there was an emergence of a particularly nasty new variant,” one said. Another source said it was unlikely that the plan could be knocked off course, whatever the numbers.

—Judy Gerstel


July 7, 2021

A Call to Bare Arms in Ontario

Today, Ontario reported zero deaths for the first time since Oct. 14. Vaccinations do make a difference! Yesterday, Ontario’s chief medical officer told reporters that 83 per cent of Ontarians infected with COVID-19 recently had not been vaccinated. Dr. Kieran Moore warned that with more businesses expected to reopen this month — including gyms and indoor restaurant dining — and schools returning in September, “time is of the essence” because it takes a couple of weeks after the second vaccination to develop full immunity and improve safety levels. Aside from the 83.2 per cent who were not vaccinated and caught the virus, 15.6 per cent had been partially vaccinated and 1.2 per cent were fully vaccinated, Moore said. He also said that the more highly contagious Delta variant, first detected in India, “remains a difficult adversary” and is increasing in Israel and England despite their high vaccination levels.


Delta Is Now the Dominant Coronavirus Variant in the U.S. and Is Spreading in Canada

Last night, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the Delta variant now is estimated to account for more than 51 per cent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

In some midwestern states, including Missouri, Kansas and Iowa, the Delta variant accounts for more than 80 per cent of new infections. In some western states, including Utah and Colorado, it is causing 74.3 per cent of infections while in the south — Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma — Delta is responsible for 58.8 per cent of infections. In Canada, the Delta variant has spread to all regions of Manitoba, with 40 per cent of Delta cases in Winnipeg. It is believed to responsible for recent outbreaks elsewhere, including in the Yukon and in a Burlington retirement home. Because of the highly infectious variant, “people who are not vaccinated are going to be at a hugely increased risk in the coming months,” warned epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, a Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Evolution, Infection and Public Health at Simon Fraser University. “We’re testing new waters in a way; this virus hasn’t seen a reopened population.”


Vaccines Do Work Against Delta. Mostly.

The Pfizer vaccine appears to be less effective against infections caused by the Delta variant compared to other strains of COVID-19, the Israeli government says. As of June 6, the vaccine provided 64 per cent protection against infection in Israel, CNN reports. In May — when the Alpha variant dominated in Israel and the Delta strain had not yet spread widely — the government found that the shot was 95.3 per cent effective against all infections. The government added that the vaccine was now 93 per cent effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalizations, compared to 97 per cent reported in The Lancet in May. However, a Hebrew University team said in a separate statement that it was too soon to tell how much the Delta variant was affecting vaccine efficacy.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, was also cautious about drawing conclusions. “Best data still suggest mRNA vaccines offer high degree of protection against infection and superb protection against severe illness. Let’s await more data but as of now … If you’re vaccinated, I wouldn’t worry,” he tweeted.

In another statement Tuesday, Israel’s Ministry of Health emphasized the vaccine’s continuing benefit in preventing severe cases. More than 60 per cent of Israel’s population is fully inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine.

Also, reports CNN, a study by Public Health England found this month that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines were each highly effective — at 96 per cent and 92 per cent respectively — against hospitalizations from the Delta variant after two doses.

—Judy Gerstel

July 6, 2021

Masks, Masks and More About Masks and Unmasking

Forget for a moment about the battle between the Canadiens vs. the Lightning. Consider, instead, the battle between Masked vs. Unmasked. In many jurisdictions, the time has come to choose your team.

With mask laws repealed or about to be repealed or loosened in many jurisdictions — British Columbia, Alberta and Britain — voluntarily wearing a mask or going unmasked becomes a statement, advertising to the world much about how you feel about risk and even about how you want to be perceived. Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Delta variant is gearing up on the sidelines, eager to pounce on the unvaccinated and the partially vaccinated.

In B.C. and Alberta, most provincial mask rules were dropped on July 1. Instead, masks are “recommended,” especially for those not fully vaccinated or at higher risk. On Monday, Calgary city councillors voted to repeal the bylaw that had mandated mask use at all city facilities, malls, retail businesses, places of worship and public transit. However, provincial rules stipulate that masks will still be required while riding on transit as well as in taxis and ride-sharing vehicles. Council also voted in favour of requiring mask use in city buildings and city-owned vehicles. Individual stores can still require masks.

In Britain, mandatory mask wearing will end on July 19 as the country fully re-opens, a decision stirring considerable controversy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’ll join Team Masked when he’s in crowded places and told people to take “personal responsibility” for whether to cover their faces from July 19. The move will lift the threat of £200 ($343) fines for people who fail to keep their face covered on buses, trains, trams, taxis, aircraft and in transport hubs. Also, as of August 16, fully vaccinated people and their children who have been in contact with someone infected with coronavirus will not have to self-isolate,  British Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced today. He also warned that COVID cases could soon rise above 100,000 a day. He said that England will be entering “uncharted territory” in its scrapping of restrictions, reports The Guardian.

One Dose Doesn’t Do It

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel is in a “serious but stable” condition in hospital with the COVID-19, his government said Monday. Bettel, 48, tested positive for the virus just over a week ago, shortly after attending a summit of EU leaders in Brussels and was admitted to hospital Sunday. Bettel received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early May.

Even Two Doses May Not Be Enough

 Israel is considering giving people over 50 a third booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine beginning next month. Israel’s Health Ministry released data on Monday showing that the vaccine appears to largely prevent hospitalization and serious cases, but is significantly less effective against preventing the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

According to the ministry, the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 has dropped by some 30 per cent to 64 per cent, given the spread of the Delta variant. The data shows that during May, when the strain was less prevalent, the vaccine was 94.3 per cent effective.

The Delta variant, which is believed to be twice as contagious as the original strain of the coronavirus, is thought to be responsible for 90 per cent of new cases in Israel over the past two weeks. The data, however, also shows that the vaccine is still highly effective against preventing serious symptoms and hospitalization. During May, that figure stood at 98.2 per cent and during June, it was 93 per cent.

—Judy Gerstel


July 5, 2021

No More Quarantine for Fully Vaccinated Canadians Coming Home

Starting today, travel rules change for Canadians and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated at least 14 days earlier with a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada. They’ll no longer be required to quarantine for 14 days. And Canadians and permanent residents arriving by air will no longer have to spend their first three days in a government-approved hotel. However, they will have to provide details of their vaccination on the ArriveCAN app or web portal before their departure by air or before crossing the border, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no longer than 72 hours before arrival.

Border officials cautioned that this does not change the eligibility of people who are neither Canadian, nor permanent residents, to enter Canada. It also doesn’t affect the closure of the Canada-U.S. border, which remains closed until July 21 to non-essential travel in both directions. The closure, which began in March 2020, has been extended month by month and comments by Prime Minister Trudeau on Friday hinted that it will likely be extended again. Although an earlier target for opening was 20 per cent of Canadians fully vaccinated with two doses and 75 per cent partially vaccinated, Trudeau said on Friday, “I know people are impatient to suddenly get back to normal, but we’re not there yet,” adding that the country has to get over 75 per cent, maybe even 80 per cent, fully vaccinated “if we’re going to be safe.” As of Friday, “close to 80 per cent of eligible Canadians have received their first dose and more than 35 per cent have received a second dose, and we see these numbers increasing daily,” Trudeau said. Another strong hint of another postponement: Porter Airlines changed its date to begin flying again from Aug. 23 to Sept. 8.


Outbreak and One Death at Burlington LTC 

The Village of Tansley Wood, a long-term care facility in Burlington owned by Schlegel Villages, announced the death yesterday of a resident who had tested positive for COVID-19. On Friday, the Village announced the outbreak involving 14 residents and two staff members, and said it was likely caused by the Delta variant. All but one of the affected residents had been vaccinated. There was no information about whether it was the unvaccinated resident who had died. But experts say a COVID-19 outbreak at the long-term care home is far less concerning now than it would have been a few months ago, before most residents were fully vaccinated. Nevertheless, only 52 per cent of staff at the facility are fully vaccinated while 14 percent of staff are completely unvaccinated, reports The Bay Observer.


Mask Controversy as Rules About to Ease in Britain

Brits “must learn to live with the virus,” Boris Johnson will be declaring today, reports BBC News. In a major announcement at noon, he’ll confirm July 19 as the date of the fourth and final stage of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. That includes making face masks voluntary and ending the social distancing rule and QR code sign-ins at restaurants. However, there are concerns from some experts about dropping the mask requirement. On the other hand, doubts have been raised over whether mask-wearing will really be scrapped after July 19. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has refused to say whether he will keep the rules on the subway, while Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has demanded a rethink to protect the vulnerable. It is unclear whether train companies and businesses will be able to keep demanding face coverings are worn, even if the law is changed, according to the Daily Mail. The headline reads: “Prepare for the great mask divide: Warnings of face covering chaos as Boris defies BMA (British Medical Association) warnings and will DROP rules making them compulsory — but they could stay by stealth in pubs, on trains and in shops.”


Kate Middleton is Self-Isolating for 10 Days at Home

The Duchess of Cambridge is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, Kensington Palace has confirmed: “Last week The Duchess of Cambridge came into contact with someone who has subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.

“Her Royal Highness is not experiencing any symptoms but is following all relevant government guidelines and is self-isolating at home.”

The news comes after the duchess made a public appearance at Wimbledon on Friday. During the visit, she met with staff in the All England Club kitchens and toured the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. As a patron of the club and keen tennis fan, Kate attends the tournament every year, but will now miss the men’s and women’s final. She will also miss a service of thanksgiving and hosting a “Big Tea” with Prince William to mark the 73rd anniversary of the National Health Service. William and his father both contracted coronavirus last year. Both Kate and William received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in May.

—Judy Gerstel


July 2, 2021

Canada Added to EU Safe List

Canadians will be able to vacation in European Union countries soon. The EU governments agreed on Wednesday to add Canada and 10 other countries to their list of states from which they will allow non-essential travel, according to Reuters. Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 states approved the additions at a meeting on Wednesday, with the change to take effect in the coming days. Ex-EU member Britain, where the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus has caused a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, is not on the list. The added countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Canada, Jordan, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The EU countries are recommended to gradually lift travel restrictions for the current 14 countries on the list — Albania, Australia, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Rwanda, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States. Individual EU countries can still opt to demand a negative COVID-19 test or a period of quarantine.


Euro 2020 Crowds Driving Rise in COVID-19 Infections, Says WHO

Crowds at Euro 2020 football stadiums and, in pubs and bars in host cities are driving the current rise in coronavirus infections in Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday. A 10-week decline in new coronavirus infections across the region has come to an end and a new wave of infections is inevitable if football fans and others drop their guard, according to the WHO. Last week, the number of new cases rose by 10 per cent, driven by mixing of crowds in Euro 2020 host cities, travel and easing of social restrictions, the WHO said.

“We need to look much beyond just the stadiums themselves,” the WHO’s senior emergency officer, Catherine Smallwood, told Reuters“We need to look at how people get there, are they travelling in large crowded convoys of buses? And when they leave the stadiums, are they going into crowded bars and pubs to watch the matches?

“It is these small continuous events that are driving the spread of the virus,” Smallwood said.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer called a decision by European soccer’s governing body UEFA to allow big crowds at Euro 2020 “utterly irresponsible.” Meanwhile, almost 2,000 people living in Scotland attended at least one Euro 2020 event while infected with COVID-19, Public Health Scotland (PHS) has said. A total of 1,991 COVID-19 cases in Scotland have been linked to football fans attending Euro 2020 matches between June 11 and June 28 while in their transmission period, reports The Athletic.

The figures show nearly three-quarters of these cases are people aged 20-29, while nine in 10 are male. Nearly two-thirds of these cases — 1,294 people — travelled to London to watch Scotland’s play England on June 18. Informal gatherings to watch a match at a pub or party were also included, accounting for 34 per cent of all cases associated with the tournament.


Delta Variant Socks Asians and Aussies

The highly contagious Delta variant is surging through Asia this week, with record numbers of infections in Australia and South Korea, reports the Globe and Mail. 

The variant, first associated with India in December last year, has spread to about 100 countries and the WHOI warned recently that it could soon become the dominant form of the virus. It is also driving a spike in cases in Japan where the Olympic Games begin on July 23.

Today, Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales state, reported the biggest daily rise in new cases so far this year. Total cases in the state in the latest outbreak have topped 200, a majority caused by the Delta variant. Sydney, home to a fifth of the country’s 25 million population, is halfway through a two-week lockdown to contain the outbreak, which has alarmed authorities amid a sluggish nationwide vaccination drive. Australia, like several other countries in Asia, has struggled to inoculate people as initial successes in containing the pandemic led to vaccine hesitancy, and manufacturers were slow to ship doses.

Australia has fully vaccinated only six per cent of its population, while Japan has vaccinated 12 per cent. In Canada, 35 per cent of the population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated.

Japan reported on Wednesday that the Delta variant now accounts for nearly a third of all cases in the eastern part of the country, including Tokyo, and that could grow to 50 per cent by mid-July. Today, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike reiterated that a ban on spectators for the Olympic Games, which start on July 23, would be an option if the coronavirus situation worsened. In South Korea, officials said on Friday daily coronavirus cases topped 800, the highest in nearly six months, with vaccination below 10 per cent. The average number of new infections in the country has risen for 10 days straight, and authorities in Seoul have delayed relaxing social distancing measures. And Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, imposed emergency measures that begin tomorrow and ends on July 20 to contain a spike in cases.

—Judy Gerstel


June 30, 2021

The Good News: Rates Fall, Vaccinations Climb, More Reopening in Ontario. and B.C.

Today marks Ontario’s advance to Stage 2 of reopening, two days earlier than originally planned. And tomorrow will bring British Columbia into Step 3 of its reopening.

In Ontario, hair and nail salons where face coverings can be worn at all times will open at 25 per cent capacity. Outdoor dining will expand from four to six people to a table. And malls — non-essential retail without a storefront or street access entrance — will be able to open with 25 per cent capacity. Ontario met the requirement for Stage 2 opening with at least 70 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose and at least 20 per cent vaccinated with two doses.

In British Columbia, where the state of emergency has been lifted after 15 months, masks are no longer mandatory and there is no limit on indoor or outdoor gatherings. The province has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. More than 78 per cent of adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 32 per cent have been fully immunized with two doses. Tuesday, the province recorded only 29 new cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths from the disease. The seven-day rolling average case count has fallen to 58 — its lowest point since August.


The Bad News: Highly Infectious Delta Variant Taking Over Here, There, Everywhere

Even though vaccines are shown to be effective against the Delta variant, which was first identified in India, the variant’s high rate of transmission and overtaking of other variants is causing concern and caution worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing face masks and follow physical distancing measures as the highly infectious Delta variant spurs new COVID-19 outbreaks around the world. “Vaccines alone won’t stop community transmission,” said WHO assistant-director-general Mariangela Simao. “People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, practice hygiene, physical distance, avoid crowding.”

Yesterday, Los Angeles County Public Health “strongly” recommended that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors in public places. In the week ending on June 12, Delta variants accounted for nearly half of all variants sequenced in the county. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that Delta variants are now responsible for about one in every five new infections across the country, up from approximately one in every 10 the week before.

In Canada, there have been more than 4,100 cumulative cases of the Delta variant, with Ontario accounting for 42 per cent of the cases in the country and British Columbia accounting for 31 per cent. Because of Delta, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, warned yesterday that it will be at least another three weeks before it is safe to reopen indoor restaurant dining and gyms.

The more contagious Delta variant, he said at a press conference Tuesday, “is a difficult adversary. It is aggressive. It wants to spread rapidly. It’s virulent and it can have an increased risk of admission to hospital.”

—Judy Gerstel


June 29, 2021

Analysis: Twice as Many COVID-19 Deaths in Canada as Reported

Canada’s deaths due to COVID-19 are likely double the official number, according to a stunning report issued Tuesday morning by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). This is mostly due to the finding that thousands of deaths of people aged 45 or older living in communities across Canada “appear to have gone undetected, unreported or unattributed to COVID-19.”

An in-depth analysis by the RSC of all deaths reported across Canada between Feb. 1 and Nov. 28, 2020 revealed that at least two-thirds of the deaths caused by COVID-19 in communities outside of the long-term care sector may have been missed. “This suggests that if Canada has continued to miss these fatalities at the same rate since last November, the pandemic mortality burden may be two times higher than reported.”

As well, the RSC finding casts doubt on the estimate that 80 per cent of Canada’s deaths due to COVID-19 occurred among older adult residents of long-term care homes, a proportion double the 40 per cent average of peer countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “The number of possible missed deaths in the country’s communities suggests that COVID-19 fatalities in long-term care actually account for 45 per cent of Canada’s total COVID-19 death toll, a figure more in line with the OECD average.”

The RSC study presents “a very different picture as to how the pandemic has unfolded in Canada. It strongly suggests that while the novel coronavirus was devastating the long-term care sector in two successive waves in 2020, it was also devastating communities outside long- term care.”

About 25 per cent of the likely missed community deaths occurred in people between the ages of 45 and 64, likely front-line and essential workers, recent immigrants and people living in multigenerational households. “The failure to recognize the heightened COVID-19 risk faced by community-dwelling elders and economically precarious, racialized workers likely delayed the implementation of public health interventions that may well have saved lives. “

The RSC report concludes with four recommendations:

  • Mandate weekly preliminary reporting of numbers of deaths due to all causes, in all provinces and territories, to Statistics Canada, similar to other countries
  • Perform COVID-19 testing on all people who die in any setting, including hospitals, congregate living, shelters and private homes, and report by setting, neighbourhood of residence, race, and occupation
  • Immediately adopt U.S. CDC excess mortality methods for estimating Canadian excess mortality during the COVID-19 epidemic
  • Establish a national COVID-19 mortality ask force

Should You Stay (Home) or Should You Go?

The National Institute on Aging has issued a new online tool called ‘My COVID-19 Visit Risk,’ in partnership with Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), to help assess the risk of exposure in this phase of the pandemic.“Within the first 72 hours we had over 32,000 users from across the country,” Toronto geriatician Dr. Samir Sinha, a member of the National Institute on Aging, told CTV News. “I think with vaccination, we now have newfound freedoms ahead of us, but I think people are really nervous about how to actually negotiate that,” said Sinha, who helped develop the interactive tool.

The online Risk Calculator offers guidance on how to plan gatherings. Sinha suggested that it could be added to party invitations so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to COVID-19 precautions.

“Saying that if you’re getting together outdoors with a small group of friends and having a gathering and you’re all fully vaccinated, probably no need to wear masks and to physically distance, and I think these are the signals that Canadians are looking for.”

Sinha says comments about the tool have ranged from thank you to people who complain they no longer have an excuse to skirt visits. “We had a comment from someone who said, ‘Oh my gosh, I was hoping this is going to be a high-risk event because I don’t really want to go visit, you know, my friends, but you know your tool told me that this is a low, low-risk event so I guess I have to go.’”

Study: Switching Vaccines for Second Dose Works Well

A mix-and-match approach to COVID-19 vaccines — using different brands for first and second doses — appears to give good protection against the pandemic virus, an Oxford University study has found. That’s good news for many Canadians who may have received Pfizer as a second dose after a first dose of AstraZeneca.The Com-Cov trial looked at the efficacy of either two doses of Pfizer, two of AstraZeneca, or one of them followed by the other.

All combinations worked well, priming the immune system. The trial results also hint that people who have already received two doses of AstraZeneca vaccine could have a stronger immune response if they were given a different vaccine as a booster, if recommended in the autumn.

The U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr. Jonathan Van-Tam, told the BBC. “Mixing doses could provide us with even greater flexibility for a booster programme, while also supporting countries who have further to go with their vaccine rollouts, and who may be experiencing supply difficulties.”

—Judy Gerstel


June 28, 2021

Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines Likely Produce Lasting Immunity

The vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna set off a persistent immune reaction in the body that may protect against the coronavirus for years, scientists reported on Monday.

The findings published in the journal Nature add to growing evidence that most people immunized with the mRNA vaccines may not need boosters, so long as the virus and its variants do not evolve much beyond their current forms — which is not guaranteed. People who recovered from COVID-19 before being vaccinated may not need boosters even if the virus does make a significant transformation.

“It’s a good sign for how durable our immunity is from this vaccine,” study author Ali Ellebedy, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told the New York Times.

AstraZeneca Third Dose Booster Produces Strong Immunity

An Oxford University study found that a third dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine increases antibody and T-cell immune responses, while the second dose can be delayed up to 45 weeks and also lead to an enhanced immune response.

The British government has said it is looking at plans for an autumn vaccine booster campaign, with three-fifths of adults already having received both doses of a COVID vaccine.

In Canada, 1,619,474 people have received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine as of June 19.

But Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told Reuters that evidence that the vaccine protects against current variants for a sustained period of time meant that such a booster may not be needed.

“We do have to be in a position where we could boost if it turned out that was necessary … (but) we don’t have any evidence that that is required,” he told reporters.

“At this point with a high level of protection in the UK population and no evidence of that being lost, to give third doses now in the UK whilst other countries have zero doses is not acceptable.”

Studies had previously shown that the shot, invented at Oxford University and licensed to AstraZeneca has higher efficacy when the second dose is delayed to 12 weeks instead of four weeks.

Monday’s research was released in a preprint, and looked at 30 participants who received a late second dose and 90 who received a third dose, all of whom were under 55.

It helps assuage concerns that viral vector COVID vaccines, such as those made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, may lose their potency if annual inoculations are needed due to the risk that the body produces an immune response against the vectors that deliver the vaccine’s genetic information.

“There had been some concerns that we would not be able to use this vaccine in a booster vaccination regime, and that’s certainly not what the data is suggesting,” study author Teresa Lambe told Reuters.

Public Health Agency of Canada: What You Can do if You’re Vaccinated

Just in time for the Canada Day holiday, PHAC on Friday published a chart with information about what fully vaccinated people and others can do in different settings.

For example, if you are fully vaccinated — 14 days past your second shot — no mask or distancing is necessary outdoors or indoors with a small group of fully vaccinated individuals.

Nor is a mask or distancing necessary for fully vaccinated people when outdoors with others from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or their vaccination status is unknown. Examples are playing a close contact sport, gathering with a group of friends, child’s outdoor birthday party, outdoor wedding.

However, PHAC recommends that even if you are fully vaccinated but are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes, you should consider wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance in small indoor gatherings, such as private celebrations of ceremonies, indoor birthday parties and places of worship with people from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or their vaccination status is unknown. Also recommended in these situations is keeping windows and doors open when possible. Those measures are also recommended for people at risk indoors or outdoors in a large crowd where people are closely gathering, such as a large house party.

Survey: One in Three Canadians Broke Pandemic Restrictions

Almost 30 per cent of respondents in a newly released Canada-wide survey admitted to breaking COVID-19 rules — and felt justified doing so, reports CTV.

The survey by the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan was done between June 1 and June 14. It asked 1,000 people about how closely they stuck to public health orders.

Some 29 per cent said they broke at least one COVID-19 restriction. The most common transgressions were around gathering limits and wearing masks.

Of the people who broke rules, 62 per cent said they felt it was justified. Their reasons included wanting to see friends and family (27 per cent) and a belief that they were violating restrictions in a safe way (17 per cent). Some said they ignored rules they didn’t think made any sense (21 per cent) and seven per cent said they didn’t believe the pandemic exists or is a problem.

The survey says some people did not think regulations “made sense for them” because they were fully vaccinated and they felt what they were doing was safe given their status.

Toronto Sets a World Record (We Think)

With 26,771 doses administered on Sunday at Scotiabank Arena’s massive vaccine clinic, Toronto likely set a new world record.

“The total COVID-19 vaccine doses administered are believed to be a new world record for most one-day COVID-19 vaccinations given at a single clinic,” City of Toronto officials said in a news release late Sunday.

The “Our Winning Shot” clinic got underway at 7 a.m., Sunday and was fully booked.

By 2:21 p.m., the event surpassed the previous Canadian record of 10,470 people vaccinated at a clinic in a single day, officials said.

Second doses accounted for 25,793 shots and 978 people got their first shots.

For sure, Toronto went bigger than Texas, breaking the North American record which was previously held by a clinic at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, at 17,003 doses delivered.

The all-out effort was a partnership of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Scotiabank, Michael Garron Hospital, and the University Health Network for the event in the home of the Raptors and Maple Leafs.

—Judy Gerstel


June 25, 2021

Delta Variant Slows Reopening in Israel

According to tracking by the New York Times, Israel is second only to Malta for proportion of its population who are fully vaccinated, 57 per cent, and reports put that at 85 per cent when talking about adults inoculated against the coronavirus. But despite being a world leader in COVID-19 vaccination, the country is once again requiring people to wear masks at indoor public spaces and has delayed reopening to vaccinated tourists until the beginning of August. Health officials say that around half of infections from a recent outbreak occurred in people who are fully vaccinated with the Pfizer shot, and about 90 per cent of the infections were attributed to the Delta variant. “The entrance of the Delta variant has changed the transition dynamics,” said Ran Balicer, head of Israel’s advisory panel on COVID-19, about his country’s reopening plans. Health officials, however, are optimistic that vaccination will prevent severe illness and a spike in hospitalizations, as shown in other highly vaccinated countries like the U.K. The current outbreak is linked to a cluster identified last week in schoolchildren, prompting the government earlier this week to recommended that all 12- to 15-year-olds be vaccinated to protect against the Delta variant.

Most COVID Cases in Canada Now in Under 19-Year-Olds

As a report by the Globe and Mail points out, Canadians 19 and younger now account for most of the country’s cases, demographically speaking, at 19.2 per cent (269,508 of total confirmed cases). Those age 20 to 29 aren’t far behind — only a tenth of a per cent, in fact — with 19.1 per cent. Incidentally, the least amount of cases are attributed to people aged 70 to 79, with 4.2 per cent of the more than 1.4 million infections reported. But unlike older people, severe outcomes remain rare in children — they account for only 1.8 per cent of hospitalizations, the report notes, and 0.01 per cent of deaths from COVID-19 in Canada. And now that adults who can get sicker are eligible for vaccination — 75 per cent of eligible Canadians had gotten at least one shot by the end of last week — COVID-19 “kind of becomes like influenza,” Joan Robinson, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Alberta told the Globe. “We would never consider shutting all of society down during influenza season to prevent that morbidity and mortality because it’s simply not worth the trade-off. And I think in future years, that will be what COVID-19 will look like.” However, vaccinating children — even those under 12 — does help reduce influenza spread, as is Britain’s approach each year, and is suggested to help reach herd immunity against COVID-19.

—Tara Losinski


June 24, 2021

Benefit Outweighs Risk, CDC on mRNA Vaccines; U.S. Life Expectancy Declines

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) said yesterday that mRNA vaccines “may be a new trigger” for myocarditis — a rare condition involving inflammation of the heart muscle. “We do not know potential mechanisms yet,” said Dr. Matthew Oster, a member of the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, during a presentation of the group’s findings. The ACIP noted that early data shows a rate of just 4.4 reported cases per million first doses given of any mRNA vaccine in the 21 days following — the rate increased to 12.6 reported cases per million after second doses. Rates were highest among 12- to 39-year-olds and more prevalent in men than women. Their data also showed that many patients have been hospitalized, “usually for short duration,” and that they generally recover from symptoms, which can include chest pain. The group concluded that, “the benefits still clearly outweigh the risks for COVID-19 vaccination in adolescents and young adults.”

More than 600,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and yesterday also saw the release of a study showing that, during the pandemic, life expectancy in the country dropped by roughly 1.9 years — the largest decline seen since the Second World War. In comparison, estimates from the study put decline in 16 peer countries (including the U.K., New Zealand and France) at 0.22 of a year (less than three months). Canada’s figures were not included in the study, but a report from Statistics Canada on June 1 estimates that COVID-19 decreased life expectancy by 0.41 years, or a little less than five months.

Outbreak in Canada’s Most Vaccinated Jurisdiction

With the highest fully vaccinated rate in Canada, 62 per cent, Yukon is facing a surge of COVID-19 that has seen total cases, now at 224, more than double in the past two weeks. Of the 144 cases in the latest outbreak, the territory’s top doctor said that 122 were among unvaccinated people ranging in age from one to 90. “For many months, almost as on a pedestal, with our zero active cases and high vaccination rates, all eyes in Canada were on us,” said Dr. Brendan Hanley, after reporting four new cases and one death at a news conference Wednesday. “And now the same eyes are on us for a much different reason. A highly vaccinated territory is undergoing the most significant outbreak since COVID-19 began.” More than 72 per cent of residents have at least one dose, but Hanley said 80 per cent should receive their shots to prevent spread of the virus. The Gamma variant first identified in Brazil has been identified in the outbreak, which has been linked to graduation events at a high school, two classes at an elementary school, several parties as well as gatherings at bars.

—Tara Losinski


June 23, 2021

Protests Over Travel Rules Block N.S. and N.B. Border

In a move that has prompted protest, Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin announced Tuesday that people coming from New Brunswick will have isolation requirements despite the so-called Atlantic Bubble resuming Wednesday. The provision is meant to allow Atlantic Canadians to travel between the four provinces without quarantining. Those coming to N.S. from P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador will not have to, but Rankin said that because of New Brunswick’s decision to open up to any Canadian visitors who have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, modified self-isolation will remain in place for people coming from N.B. People upset about the move began protesting at the border between the two provinces last night and continued to block it today. Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, a Progressive Conservative MLA from N.S.’s Cumberland North area said many people in her border community haven’t seen friends and family on the other side in N.B. for months, and she wants Premier Rankin  to listen to the concerns of those protesting. “He changed his decision on the restrictions to enter Nova Scotia at the eleventh hour yesterday, angering and disappointing so many people,” Smith-McCrossin told Global News. “I’m here on their behalf and I’m hoping he’ll meet with me today because we have a big problem in that part of Nova Scotia.”

Delta Variant Causing Worry in U.S., Sydney Locks Down Over Cluster

U.S. modellers say the Delta variant first identified in India could cause a “resurgence” of COVID-19 later this year in that country. Speaking at a White House briefing Tuesday, infectious disease physician Dr. Anthony Fauci said the variant now accounts for roughly a fifth of America’s active cases. “As of a couple of days ago, 20.6 per cent of the isolates are Delta,” he said, adding that the number has roughly doubled every two weeks. Faced with the more transmissible variant of the coronavirus expected to soon become the dominant strain, “it looks like we do see a resurgence late in the summer, or in the early fall,” said Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Meanwhile, residents in Australia’s biggest city are being told not to travel outside Sydney unless it’s essential as restrictions have been tightened under a growing cluster of the Delta variant. Masks are mandatory outside the home, patrons must be seated while drinking in bars and household visits are limited to five people. “Please abandon non-essential activities, please don’t attend social gatherings unless you absolutely must,” said New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “I’m not going to rule out further action.” The cluster has been traced back to an unvaccinated airport limousine driver who is suspected of being infected while transporting a foreign aircrew. There have been 31 identified cases since he tested positive last week. “I just urge the New South Wales government to get this under control because it’s a threat and a risk to the rest of the country. If that means a lockdown, well, then that’s what should happen,” said Mark McGowan, the premier of Western Australia, which has banned travellers from anywhere in New South Wales.

—Tara Losinski


June 22, 2021

Majority of Canadians Say “No” to Lifting All Restrictions

As Alberta and Saskatchewan get ready to ditch their remaining pandemic restrictions in July, a new survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies suggests that two-thirds of Canadians are not yet ready. When 1,542 people were asked between June 18 and 20: Do you think governments should lift all restrictions related to COVID-19 right now? Nearly 70 per cent said no, six per cent said they didn’t know and 24 per cent said yes. Among the strongest dissenters, 75 per cent were aged 55+ (66 per cent were 18 to 54). “I believe they’re waiting until the end of the vaccination campaign, or at least until governments say that they’ve reached all of their targets, potentially to sort of relax a little bit,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque of Canadians continued reticence. “We’ll see this number change … once governments have said that they’ve reached their vaccination targets. So, a few more weeks at least.” However, premiers Kenney and Moe would seem to have taken the accurate temperature of at least a third of their electorate; of Canadians who said they were ready for their governments to ease all restrictions, the loudest support came from the two provinces, as well as Manitoba, with 33 per cent of residents saying yes.

Manitoba Not Feeling Pressure to Open Sooner

After neighbouring Saskatchewan announced Sunday that it plans to fully reopen in early July, officials in Manitoba say they’ll watch other provinces and territories but that they aren’t feeling pressure to reopen sooner than they’re ready. “We’re going to have to do things based on what we’re seeing here and then move forward cautiously, but we’ll definitely be watching what other jurisdictions do and the successes that they have,” Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday, noting that the province was late to the third wave. On Monday the province reached its second target towards beginning its reopening on July 1, with 25 per cent of Manitobans 12 and older fully vaccinated, after meeting its first goal Wednesday past with 70 per cent of eligible residents having gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s expected that most businesses, services and facilities in the province will be open at 25 per cent capacity or greater by Canada Day. But, unlike in Sask., and Alberta, Manitoba has tied its plan for further easing of restrictions to greater vaccination rates. If 50 per cent of residents have a second dose by the Terry Fox Day long weekend in August, capacity limits will increase to 50 per cent. And, if by Labour Day 75 per cent of residents have had a second dose, all businesses and services will reopen, with “limited restrictions in some cases.”

—Tara Losinski


June 21, 2021

Hotel Quarantine to be Lifted for Fully Vaxxed

In a briefing Monday, the federal government cemented its intention to exempt fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents from quarantine upon entering the country — including hotel quarantine. As of July 5. Canadians and permanent residents will need to show proof they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine approved by Health Canada — two doses in the case of Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca’s shots — at least 14 days prior to entering the country through the ArriveCAN online tool to skip quarantine. As reported, children who are not vaccinated will be able to go home with their parents, but must quarantine for two weeks. The easing of restrictions does not apply to foreign nationals, and the Canada-U.S. border remains closed until at least July 21. In Friday’s announcement of the closure extension with the U.S., Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said: “At this time, the Government of Canada continues to strongly advise Canadians to avoid non-essential travel.

“Although the future is looking brighter than it has for a long time, with COVID-19 cases on a downward trend and vaccination efforts going well across the country, we can’t let our guard down.”

Fully Vaccinated Ont., LTC Resident Dies

Officials in Ontario announced Sunday that a fully vaccinated woman in her nineties died after contracting COVID-19. The woman was a resident of The Village of Winston Park long-term care home in Kitchener. As per an online notice by Schlegel Villages, owner and operator of the home, the resident “had only shown mild symptoms but, as we have seen through the course of the pandemic, the virus can change quickly and our deepest condolences are with loved ones and team members facing this loss today.” The 95-resident facility is currently under an outbreak of the coronavirus, with three confirmed cases among residents, and three among staff. The company, which operates 19 nursing homes across the province said they could not confirm if a variant of concern was involved, but that “testing is underway.” Health officials in the Waterloo Region, which includes the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, confirmed last week that the Delta variant first identified in India is now the dominant strain in the region. In a news release Sunday, the region’s associate medical officer of health, Dr. Rabia Bana, said that although death “is very rare” among fully vaccinated people, “I encourage everyone in Waterloo Region to remain vigilant.”

Saskatchewan, Alberta Set for Full Reopen in July

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said via a tweet Sunday that “because so many Saskatchewan residents have done their part by getting vaccinated,” his government will be moving the province into its third and final stage of reopening in July. The plan requires 70 per cent of residents 12 and older to be vaccinated with a first dose for all pandemic restrictions to be lifted — as of Sunday, 69 per cent of that population had gotten at least one shot. “Because we are now so close to that final target, three weeks from today, on Sunday, July 11, all the remaining public health orders are going to be lifted” said Moe, adding that continuing to wear a mask “will be up to you.” Moe’s announcement was upstaged two days before by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney who said that, having surpassed a 70 per cent vaccinated threshold, his province would be the first to almost fully ease COVID-19 restrictions — with the exception of measures like isolation requirements for confirmed COVID-19 cases and preventative measures in care settings. “So mark it on the calendar, folks, on July 1, Alberta isn’t just open for summer, but I believe it’ll be open for good,” Kenney said Friday.

—Tara Losinski


June 18, 2021

More Confusion Over AstraZeneca Vaccine

The guidelines surrounding the administering of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine have changed, once again. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) issued a statement yesterday suggesting that Canadians who received their first dose of the controversial vaccine should seek one of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) for their second. “An mRNA vaccine is now preferred as the second dose for individuals who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine, based on emerging evidence of a potentially better immune response from this mixed vaccine schedule and to mitigate the potential risk of VITT (blot clots) associated with viral vector vaccines,” read a NACI statement issued yesterday. This means that Canadians who have received AstraZeneca for their first dose will now mix vaccines for their second. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s public health officer, said there was emerging evidence that mixing doses produce “better immune responses” to the virus, including the Delta variant, which wreaked havoc in India and is now becoming a concerning issue in Canada. She said NACI made the policy switch based on emerging studies out of Germany and “will continue to monitor this in a real life basis as vaccines are rolling out.” And she acknowledged the mounting confusing and frustration surrounding the ever-changing guidelines regarding the AstraZeneca does. “I totally recognize that this is difficult for many, but what I would say is that those who have received two doses of AstraZenca, COVISHIELD vaccine, you’ve been provided with good protection against infection,” said Tam.

Springsteen Concert Not Open to AstraZeneca Recipients

In related news, promoters of Bruce Springsteen new concert series – “Springsteen on Broadway” – posted on their website that ticket sales will be limited to those who can proved they received an “FDA-approved vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson).” This means that Canadian fans of the Boss who received AstraZeneca, which hasn’t been approved by the FDA, will not be allowed in the concert. Guests will have to show proof that they’ve received full vaccination before they are allowed into the concert, which will not have socially distanced seating. Springsteen’s concert, which is the first Broadway show to open its doors since last March, will be held on June 26 at St. James Theatre in New York.

–Peter Muggeridge


June 17, 2021

Ontario Opens Borders with Quebec and Manitoba

As the number of new COVID-19 infections continues to drop, the Ontario government announced that it will open its borders and allow travellers driving in and out of Quebec and Manitoba. The borders have been officially closed to non-essential travel since mid-April when health officials deemed the drastic move necessary to stop the spread of the virus between the provinces. The loosening on travel restrictions will allow families to see each other or take a trip without fear of being arrested or fined. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson applauded the move, saying the Capital Region, which includes Ontario and Quebec, will greatly benefit from the decision. “After months of wasted police resources to control travel around the NCR, our two highly integrated economic regions will greatly benefit from this decision.” Watson tweeted.

Toronto Hospital Reports No New COVID-19 Patients

For the first time since the early days of the pandemic last spring, Toronto General Hospital announced yesterday that it had no new COVID-19 patients. “We have no new COVID patients. No infected COVID patients. We still have some recovering COVID patients but they’re no longer infectious, which is a milestone.” said Clare Fielding, a nurse manager at the downtown hospital. The University Health Network posted this video on its social media sites thanking the nurses and staff for their hard work during the worst days of the crisis. “Today we are COVID-free,” says a nurse in the video as her fellow nurses cheer the good news.

—Peter Muggeridge


June 16, 2021

Travel Restrictions Worked for N.L., Modelling Suggests

As the four Atlantic provinces move to resume their so-called travel bubble for June 23, modelling released today suggests that closing the border to non-essential travel early in the pandemic reduced cases by 92 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador. In a study by Memorial University, authors say that rather than 17 cases that were reported, the province could have seen 79 cases of COVID-19 over the nine weeks after travel restrictions were put in place on May 4, 2020. The authors conclude that although travel restrictions “alone may be insufficient to limit COVID-19 spread,” noting that physical distancing is a strong factor in outbreaks, they did observe that the 92 per cent reduction in case count modelled was “nearly exactly equal” to the reduction in travel that resulted from restricting non-essential visitors. With the exception of travel provisions allowing Atlantic Canadians to visit without quarantine last summer, N.L. has been permitting non-residents only in special compassionate cases since last May. But officials said last week that, as of July 1, the province will be welcoming back any Canadians who are fully vaccinated as part of its ‘Together Again’ reopening plan.

According to figures from the the Public Health Agency of Canada, N.L. currently has 45 active cases of COVID-19, and has reported a total of 1,381 cases and seven deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Ontario Community Under Complete Lockdown Amid Outbreak

As new daily cases continue to fall in Ontario, a community of about 2,000 people in the province’s north has gone into a complete lockdown with cases climbing to more than 230, more than 130 of which are reported to be among children and teenagers in the Kashechewan First Nation on James Bay. Six residents over the age of 18 were airlifted to Kingston for treatment Tuesday. Kashechewan has a small nursing station, but no doctors. And the nation’s chief Leo Friday says there isn’t enough housing for infected residents to isolate. “Our water and sewage systems desperately need upgrades so that they are reliable and so we can build more homes,” Friday told Global News. Additional support is expected this week, by way of 15 rangers from the Canadian Armed Forces and 14 Canadian Red Cross personnel, and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) has said it will provide the community with more isolation spaces, including dome structures and possibly tents.“It’s a warning signal for all of Canada, frankly, when we look at our own young ones,” said ISC Minister Marc Miller. “This is particularly vulnerable in communities of … people living in crowded conditions and high youth rates.”

As Global reports, more than 74 per cent of Kashechewan’s residents are vaccinated, including some aged 12 to 17, who were eligible for an immunization clinic in June.

—Tara Losinski


June 15, 2021

Travel Restrictions Loosening

As British Columbia moves to Step 2 of its reopening today, recreational travel within the province is back on the table. “We continue to make great strides in B.C. and I continue to be optimistic about great days ahead … this will be our summer of hope and healing from this pandemic,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday. But the loosening of travel restrictions is limited to within the province, people who don’t live in B.C. are still asked to avoid travel there, unless it’s essential. Meanwhile, as residents in most of Ontario enjoy a loosening of restrictions in Phase 1 of the province’s reopening, officials announced yesterday that the borders with Quebec and Manitoba will also reopen, on Wednesday. Land crossing at both borders has been closed to all but essential travel since April 19. Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Monday in a statement that those travellers entering Ontario “must continue to follow the public health measures in place in the province.”

Will Which Vaccine You Get Matter?

The federal government signalled last week that current international travel restrictions, including a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine, will be eased later this summer for returning, fully vaccinated Canadians. However, as the CBC reports, what vaccine you’ve gotten will matter. Ottawa says the exception will apply only to those Canadians with a vaccine approved by Health Canada: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Janssen, for now. That means ex-pats or snowbirds who have gotten other shots abroad — even with World Health Organization-endorsed vaccines, will be ineligible for the eased restrictions. “From a global standpoint, if the WHO certifies a vaccine you have to respect that,” Dr. Zain Chagla, associate professor at McMaster University and an infectious disease physician, told the CBC. “You can’t just say, ‘You have to get the vaccine we want,’ when it’s not available and when that country has no contract to get it and then expect people to have it when they travel in.” The move also begs the question about how Canada will determine who is considered fully vaccinated once the country reopens to international travellers.

—Tara Losinski


June 14, 2021

Novavax mRNA Vaccine 90% Effective, Trudeau Pre-Shares 7 Million Doses

Maryland-based Novavax released results from a Phase 3 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine Monday and it’s good news. The vaccine, which uses mRNA technology like Pfizer and Moderna’s shots, was just over 90 per cent effective in a trial of 30,000 participants aged 18 and older. A statement from the drug maker also noted that the vaccine showed 91 per cent protection against moderate and severe disease among “high-risk” populations — defined as over age 65, under age 65 with certain comorbidities or having life circumstances with frequent COVID-19 exposure — and showed 93 per cent protection against variants of concern, although the Delta variant first identified in India was not one of them. Novavax hopes to have approvals for use and to be producing 100 million doses by September. The company says the vaccine, which has the benefit of being easy to store and move, will help fulfill “the critical and persistent global public health need for additional Covid-19 vaccines.” Speaking to The Associated Press, the pharma’s Chief Executive Stanley Erck said: “Many of our first doses will go to low- and middle-income countries, and that was the goal to begin with.”

According to figures from Our World in Data, while 12.7 per cent of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (64 per cent in Canada), the percentage drops to 0.8 in low-income countries.

The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine has yet to be approved by Health Canada, but it is one that the federal government has an agreement to purchase, if approved. And Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office confirmed that 7.3 million doses will be part of 100 million doses Canada committed to sharing during this past weekend’s G7 summit. The vaccines to be shared will come from the country’s surplus, including 4.3 million doses of AstraZeneca and 1.3 million of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose shot. “I want to be clear,” said Trudeau. “This global commitment on vaccines is in addition to and in parallel with our vaccine rollout at home. We have millions of doses being delivered into the country each week, and every day more and more people get their first and second shots.”

—Tara Losinski


June 11, 2021

Alta. Delta Variant Outbreak Includes Fully Vaxxed

A COVID-19 outbreak of more than 20 people at a Calgary-area hospital is being attributed to the Delta variant first identified in India — which is estimated by one expert to be 60 per cent more infectious. Most of the cases are reported to be mild but the Foothills Medical Centre has confirmed that two people needed intensive care. It’s also been confirmed that 10 of the cases are people who were fully vaccinated. “What we’re monitoring now is whether they [the fully vaccinated peopled] had, as we would expect, a milder course of illness,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said Thursday. “There still is a portion of people who can go on to be infected. … We know from the data in the U.K. that, after a second dose, the effectiveness of mNRA vaccines boosts to the high 80s.” A recent U.K. study found that two weeks after a second shot, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine gave 88 per cent protection against the Delta variant (and 93 per cent against the Alpha variant first identified in the U.K.). That was more than AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which was found to be 60 per cent effective against the Delta variant and 66 per cent against the Alpha variant. But both vaccines performed the same three weeks after a first dose, offering 33 per cent efficacy against both variants.

Ontario Employs “Delta Strategy” to Vaccine Rollout

Alberta this week opened up eligibility for second shots to anyone who’d gotten their first in April — a week ahead of scheduled. And in Ontario, as part of a so-called “delta strategy,” the province is making a push to get second shots for residents living in seven regions where the variant is spreading. Residents in hot spots, including Toronto and Peel region (Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon) will be able to book appointments starting Monday morning. Daily case counts continue to fall as the province begins its reopening Friday. And new modelling figures released yesterday suggest that if the trend continues, COVID-19 patients in ICUs could drop below 200 by mid-July, which would allow normal hospital operations to start to resume. But the co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table tempered optimism of having a better summer with a warning. “To be clear, we’re not out of the woods just yet,” said Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, noting that the Delta variant will likely become the dominant strain through the summer. “It is critical to control the spread of this variant. But we believe we can control it with the right actions.”

—Tara Losinski


June 10, 2021

Border Closures Drag On

As reopening continues across Canada and in the U.S., our border remains closed — and our neighbours to the south seem to have had enough. On Wednesday, Chris Jacobs, a member of Congress from New York, introduced a bill that, if passed, would require a report within 30 days from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control outlining the details of negotiations with Canada over the ban on non-essential travel. It would also require the U.S. government to reveal if, or what the plan is to reopen the border in the event Canada refuses to do so. “For months, families and homeowners have been left in the dark by this administration, even after the President signed an executive order on his second day calling for a plan. It’s time for answers and action,” Jacobs said in a statement. “The administration can no longer stall and refuse to provide information, Americans deserve to know what is being done to get the border open, and when it is going to happen.”

In an interview earlier this week with CTV News, Niagara Falls, N.Y. mayor Jim Diodati said he’d met with other border city mayors and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair on May 28 about the possibility of easing border restrictions near the end of June, when Canada was expected to have 75 per cent of the population vaccinated with one dose (62 per cent do, as of today) and 20 per cent vaccinated with two doses (currently less than 10 per cent). The non-essential travel ban with the U.S. has been extended month by month since March, 2020, with the next expiration set for June 21. About easing restrictions at that time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would only say the government is in consultation with medical professionals and epidemiologists on both sides of the border, and that a formal announcement is expected in the coming weeks. “It’s very clear that even though one dose has allowed us to significantly protect Canadians, to remove many of the pressures from our public health systems, it is still an incomplete protection,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We need people to get the full two doses of their vaccines and that’s why easing of restrictions will be focused on Canadians who are fully vaccinated.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been vocal about keeping borders closed, both with the U.S. and internationally. And domestically, he closed land borders with neighbouring Manitoba and Quebec in April, at the height of the third wave, with some now calling for reopening. “Given the fact that we’re going to be opening up our patios and capacity at retail stores and other freedoms, it just doesn’t make any sense to have that artificial boundary locked at both sides,” Ottawa mayor Jim Watson said yesterday about the ban on non-essential travel with Quebec. “My hope is the premier of Ontario will recognize that we’re one economic union.” Asked for details on a reopening, Quebec Premier François Legault told reporters yesterday that discussions with the Ontario government were confidential. “You can ask Doug other questions,” he said. The order is set to expire June 16, although the press secretary for Ontario’s Solicitor General said Monday that the restriction at Quebec and Manitoba borders “may continue to be extended in 14-day increments by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. We will communicate with the public prior to its termination.”

—Tara Losinski


June 9, 2021

No Quarantine for Fully Vaxxed Travellers

European Union lawmakers Wednesday gave the green light to a certificate that will allow people to travel between member countries without quarantine or undergoing extra coronavirus tests. The pass, which is described as having advanced security features via a scannable QR code, will certify that a person has been fully vaccinated and has recently tested negative for, or recovered from COVID-19. They will be issued by a tourist’s home country in paper or digital form, and will go into use July 1.

Meanwhile, Manitoba will be issuing immunization cards to residents who get fully vaccinated against COIVD-19, allowing them to skip mandatory quarantine upon return from travel within Canada. “Getting vaccinated and following public health orders to protect each other and our health-care system is the fastest way to save our summer and get back to doing some of the things we love and see the people we miss,” said Premier Brian Pallister in a release Tuesday. Available through the province’s website or by calling Manitoba Health, in both a physical and digital format, the card will include the person’s first and last name as well as a scannable QR code to confirm vaccination but no personal health information, Pallister said. The card will also allow users expanded visits at hospitals and nursing homes.

And the federal government is expected to announce Wednesday that, as of early July, fully vaccinated Canadians will no longer need to abide a mandatory 14-days quarantine upon arriving home from international travel. As the Toronto Star reports, Canadian citizens and permanent residents with their two shots will still have take a COVID-19 test upon return, and isolate until the test comes back negative, but will no longer be required to do that at a government-authorized hotel.

—Tara Losinski


June 8, 2021

High Levels of Vaccination Needed, Says WHO

At a press conference in Geneva Monday, World Health Organization Emergencies Chief Dr. Michael Ryan said that “high levels of vaccination coverage are the way out of this pandemic.” Although Ryan conceded that it’s so far unclear as to how high, he said: “But … it’s certainly north of 80 per cent coverage to be in a position where you could be significantly affecting the risk of an imported case potentially generating secondary cases or causing a cluster or an outbreak.” (According to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, as of Tuesday morning a little more than eight per cent of Canadians have been fully vaccinated.) WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, meanwhile, called on G7 countries — which includes Canada — for more help with global vaccine distribution efforts. According to tracking by the New York Times, North America has the highest rate of vaccination globally, 64 doses administered per 100 people (71 per 100 in Canada), while the continent of Africa has the lowest rate, 2.8 doses per 100 people, with some countries, including South Sudan and Congo, having yet to administer one shot.

Half of Canadians Still Wary of U.S. Border Reopening

A survey by Toronto-based Nanos Research for Bloomberg shows that 53 per cent of Canadians are not yet comfortable or still somewhat uncomfortable with reopening the Canada-U.S. border to tourism. “If you can’t get your haircut and can’t see your parents, how could you feel comfortable about opening up the border to foreign travel,” Nik Nanos, chief data scientist at Nanos Research Group, told Bloomberg Monday. However, the survey also showed that opposition to the move is down, from 80 per cent earlier in the pandemic. It also notes that younger Canadians, aged 18-34, were most likely to support reopening — 58 per cent saying they were comfortable or somewhat so of it — whereas respondents aged 55-plus were least agreeable, with only 33 pre cent on board or somewhat so. The survey comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed yesterday that the government is working on a measured reopening plan. “We are not going to get ahead of ourselves,” said Trudeau, at a virtual St. John’s Board of Trade event. “We are looking at how we’re going to start welcoming up tourists in a phased way as the numbers come down in Canada, as the numbers start to come down in the United States and elsewhere around the world,” It’s reported that the plan will require travellers to be fully vaccinated in order to avoid mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

—Tara Losinski


June 7, 2021 

Health Canada Considering Moderna for 12 and Up

Health Canada is now considering a second COVID-19 vaccine for use in adolescents aged 12 and older, with Moderna submitting a request for approval Monday. “We are pleased to announce that we have submitted for authorization of our COVID-19 vaccine for use in adolescents with Health Canada,” said Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna. “We are encouraged that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 infection in adolescents.” In a study of its vaccine’s efficacy on nearly 2,500 adolescents, the Massachusetts-based drug maker said that 100 per cent of the time it prevented symptomatic COVID-19, and 93 per cent of the of time milder COVID-19 was prevented. The Moderna shot is currently available to Canadians 18 and older but if approved for those as young as 12, it would be the second Health Canada has given the green light for use in kids, with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine — also an mRNA formula — getting the go-ahead for children 12 and up on May 5.

According to figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of the end of May a little less than eight per cent of Canadians under 18 had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Air Canada Heeding Canadians’ Ire

Over what it called “public disappointment,” Air Canada said Sunday that executives would be giving back their 2020 bonuses. CEO Michael Rousseau said the company’s current executive vice-presidents “have chosen to voluntarily return their 2020 bonuses and share appreciation units.” The company also said that former CEO Calin Rovinescu, who retired in February, will be donating the value of his 2020 bonus and share appreciation units to the Air Canada Foundation. In Sunday’s statement, Air Canada said its 2020 compensation decisions were “consistent with compensation outcomes at companies that also suffered significantly during the pandemic.” The airline, which received a bailout in April, had come under criticism by Ottawa for the bonus payouts — including $423,000 to Rousseau and $723,000 to Rovinescu — with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying Thursday that the move was “completely unacceptable” and that the company owed Canadians an explanation. The $5.9-billion federal rescue plan deal did include limits on future executive compensation, but not on past pay.

—Tara Losinski


June 4, 2021

Time to Share Vaccine Wealth, Advocates Say

Nearly 60 per cent of Canadians have gotten their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than six per cent are fully vaccinated, according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada. With more than 400 million vaccines secured, advocates say now it’s time to start sharing the wealth. “Among rich countries, Canada has bought more vaccines than anyone else in the world — enough to vaccinate Canadians five times,” ONE Canada director Stuart Hickox told Global News Thursday. As the U.S. committed yesterday, with President Joe Biden announcing that the country will share 80 million surplus doses with nations around the world (and possibly Canada) by the end of June, Hickox says Ottawa should follow suit. “Frankly, the international community is waiting for that kind of signal from Canada,” he said. “The world is watching us, you know. Our reputation is at stake.” World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week noted that 75 per cent of all vaccines had been administered in just 10 countries, saying “scandalous inequity” in distribution was perpetuating the pandemic. “A small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world,” Tedros said.

Have Vaccine, Will Travel

Earlier this week, Newfoundland and Labrador announced plans to reopen the province to travel within Canada by July 1, waiving testing and 14-day quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers. After a year and a half ban on non-essential travel — with the exception of last summer’s Atlantic bubble provision — it will mean long-awaited reunions for family members, noted Premier Andrew Furey. “Grandparents can now come home and meet the newest additions to their families,” he said. “Loved ones can finally get together and grieve anyone they have lost since the pandemic.” The plan is also contingent on getting 75 per cent of residents at least one shot by that time.

Abroad, France announced Friday that it is reopening its borders to vaccinated travellers. Based on a colour-coded system, travellers from “orange” countries, including the U.S. and Canada, where COVID-19 is not seen as out of control, will no longer need to quarantine upon arriving or justify the reasons for travelling to France. They will, however, need to continue presenting a negative COVID test upon arrival.

—Tara Losinski

June 3, 2021

Skipping Hotel Quarantine Fine Increasing

Rather than end mandatory hotel quarantine for international travellers, as the federal government’s own advisory panel suggested last week, as of Friday the fine for people who skip it is increasing — from $3,000 to $5,000. As CTV News reports, some people are choosing to pay the fine so they may skip a three-day hotel stay to start and finish a mandatory 14-day isolation at home. That, and reports of travellers — including snowbirds — also skirting the hotel stay by flying into airports near land borders, crossing at which does not require a 72-hour isolation before heading home — are two reasons the COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel last week recommended the hotel quarantine program be scrapped. Some provincial leaders, however, have called for increased measures to curb international travel as they say it will help keep coronavirus variants out. But the panel noted that is unlikely to work. “The global nature of travel and human mobility means that country-specific travel restrictions are likely to be of limited value. This is partially because travellers are able to circumvent such restrictions,” the report reads. “As well, by the time such restrictions are implemented, the relevant variant will likely have already spread to other countries.

Mental Health Declined Most Among Older Women

A survey by the Environics Institute for Ryerson University found that, over the course of the pandemic, the proportion of Canadians reporting fair/poor mental health increased from 21 to 31 per cent and, whereas there was no change in perceived mental health among 18 to 29 year-olds, seniors reported the greatest decline. And while 56 per cent of men aged 65 and older rated their mental health as good/excellent as compared to 74 per cent before the pandemic, the decline was sharper among senior women, with only 40 per cent reporting good/excellent mental health by December 2020 as compared to 73 per cent in April 2019. And although the survey found that perceptions of mental health dropped over the period of the study for all respondents, regardless of whether they identified as white, Black, Indigenous, Chinese or South Asian, Chinese Canadians reported the greatest decline compared to other groups, from 43 to 23 per cent reporting their mental health as good/excellent. “The survey can’t say if that’s because of experiences of discrimination … during the pandemic,” said Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute. “But I think the question kind of lingers.”

—Tara Losinski


June 2, 2021

More Fans in Stands But Is Manitoba Ready?

Following the lead of Toronto’s Maple Leafs, the Winnipeg Jets will allow 500 fully vaccinated health-care workers to attend Games 1 and 2 against the Montreal Canadiens, beginning with the series opener tonight. The announcement came Tuesday as Manitoba saw ICU admissions reach a record number for the third consecutive day, 109 of 305 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are now under critical care. And although the province is under its strictest public health measures of the pandemic — including a ban on gathering of any kind — at a press briefing Tuesday Premier Brian Pallister said he was confident that these fans would be “safe” and “careful.” Responding to a question about whether the move was an appropriate one, the premier said yes, adding that people should take the move as a sign “that we can start to get our lives back here in Manitoba.” But Winnipeg physician Dr. Glen Drobot used the expression “tone deaf” to describe the decision. “It just doesn’t seem like the right time, because we’re not at the end,” Drobot told the CBC. “We’re not in a period of celebration yet.”

Hotel Quarantine on Trial

Canada’s Federal Court Tuesday began hearing four challenges of the mandatory hotel quarantine rule for international travellers that the government put in place back in February. Flying into Canada currently requires a three-day hotel stay as people await a negative COVID test and the 14 applicants, of four separate challenges, argue that violates their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “This is not what we do in Canada, we do not detain law-abiding citizens en masse,” Sayeh Hassan, a lawyer for several people challenging the rule — including snowbirds who left the country before the measure was put in place — told the court yesterday. She also said that worry over COVID-19 variants doesn’t justify the measure. “We don’t know when this is going to end, we don’t know when the new variants may stop appearing. The government cannot continue to rely on that to continue to put in place oppressive measures indefinitely,” said Hassan. The federal government’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel recommended Thursday that Canada’s border regulations should be loosened, including shorter quarantine for partially vaccinated travellers; no quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers; and ending the mandatory three-day hotel quarantine program.

—Tara Losinski

June 1, 2021

Mixing Doses Okay, NACI Guidance Expected

For Canadians on the fence about getting a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine — which can have a one in 55,000 risk of potentially fatal blood clot — news that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is expected to update its guidance today on mixing or matching COVID-19 vaccines may help. As reported by the CBC, the group will recommend that people who have gotten a first dose of AstraZeneca can follow it up with a mRNA vaccine: Moderna or Pfizer’s. The change in guidance comes as research from Spain and the U.K. shows that mixing AZ and Pfizer is safe and effectively protects against the coronavirus. B.C., Manitoba and Quebec have already made the move to offer mRNA vaccines to residents who’ve gotten a first shot of AstraZeneca. Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University and virologist at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology and the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon says there should be screening for blood clot risk related to vaccination. “Until we can do that, then we need to at least provide information on what your risk is in general, and discuss using other vaccines as your second dose,” she told the CBC. “Having a profile to identify who might be at risk for severe blood clots after the AstraZeneca vaccine would be important moving forward.”

NACI is also said to be updating its recommendation for mRNA second doses; if you got either Moderna or Pfizer as your first shot that you can take one or the other as your second dose.

Get Vaxed or Go to Class

Staff of long-term-care homes in Ontario will have to either prove they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine, or attend a session about the risks of not getting one — unless they have a medical reason for not getting vaccinated. With 97 pre cent of nursing home residents having received a second shot, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care, said in a press release Monday that the province wants to “build on the success” of vaccination in the sector. “Widespread vaccination within long-term-care homes is the best way to protect residents, staff and their families,” she said. But only 66 per cent of staff are fully vaccinated. “This is kind of the step before actually mandating vaccination,” Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai, told the Toronto Star. “It might actually create more resistance in some people as opposed to figuring out what is the barrier.” He says the province should be making vaccination more convenient, thereby making it easier for staff “to do the right thing.” By July 1, an immunization policy will be mandatory for all LTC facilities in Ontario, with records of who has been vaccinated — staff and residents, alike.

—Tara Losinski


May 31, 2021

Fans in Stands for Game 7

After some normalcy Saturday night, with 2,500 hockey fans on hand at the Bell Centre (paying $1,000 a ticket) to watch the Montreal Canadiens beat Toronto 3-2 in overtime, the Ontario government announced Monday that 550 fully vaccinated health-care workers have been invited to Game 7 at Scotiabank Arena — a stadium that holds 19,800. “With precautionary measures in place like screening, masking, distancing, enhanced cleaning and crowd control, public health officials are confident we can put these special fans in the stands safely and with minimal risk,” Premier Doug Ford said in a statement issued Monday morning. Workers will include hospital and long-term care staff, Ford’s statement said, with Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment comping the game and giving everyone a free jersey. The idea was first floated by Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown with the online Hockey4Heroes petition. Responding via Twitter this morning, Brown, former leader of the province’s Conservative party, thanked @fordnation, saying the move would both boost the Leafs and acknowledge Ontario’s health-care heroes.

Canada’s Economic Outlook Looking Brighter

It’s fortune telling, yes, but good news none the less. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has upgraded its outlook for Canada’s growth this year, moving the needle to 6.1 per cent from the 4.7 per cent it predicted in March. The OECD attributed the sunnier forecast to reduced COVID-19 restrictions in the second half of the year and external demand. However, the Paris-based organization did lower its forecast for the country’s economic growth in 2022, from four to 3.8 per cent. Globally, things are also looking up in the near future, with output now expected to rise by 5.8 per cent, compared to projections in December of 4.8 per cent. But the OECD says this is “no ordinary recovery,” and that it will depend on effective vaccine rollouts and public health policy. And, although countries like Korea and the U.S. are reaching pre-pandemic income levels, others including much of Europe, Mexico and South Africa could take as long as five years to recover.

—Tara Losinski


May 28, 2021

Moderna Slows Vax Shipments

Federal officials confirmed yesterday that the pharmaceutical company that manufacturers the Moderna vaccine will not be able to meet its promise of shipping 50 million doses to Canada by the end of June. Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who replaced Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin as head of the federal government’s vaccine task force after the latter was forced to resign amid an investigation into past sexual abuse allegations, admitted that Moderna informed her it will not be able to deliver as agreed upon in its contract with the government. In the past, the company has blamed slowdowns on “quality assurance” issues at its European plants. Brodie was cautiously optimistic that that the doses would begin arriving in July instead of June, ensuring that, “across the vaccine rollout enterprise at all levels, and in all departments and jurisdictions, people are working relentlessly to ensure that Canadians can be vaccinated safely, and as soon as possible.” The missing shipments mean that many regions will likely have to put their reopening plans on hold until the supply issues are resolved. Provinces had been counting on these doses in order to vaccinate enough people so that businesses and services could reopen safely. With the AstraZeneca vaccine on hold and the Moderna shipments on hold, Canadians are hoping that Pfizer will keep up its regular shipment of two million doses a week.

Quebec Eases Rules, Allows Fans into Arena fpr Habs-Leafs playoff Series

With new COVID-19 cases dropping to below 500 per day, the Quebec government announced yesterday that it will soon be lifting several of its COVID-19 public health restrictions. Notably, it will end enforcing its controversial curfew that has been in place since early January. Among the most disliked of all the government pandemic policies, the curfew forbade Quebecers from being outside after 9:30 p.m. Beginning May 31, the government issued a directive saying that bars and restaurants will be allowed to offer patio service, up to eight people will be able to gather outdoors as well as travelling within different regions of the province. But perhaps the best news in this hockey-mad province is that some lucky fans will be allowed into the arena on Saturday to watch their beloved Montreal Canadiens battle the Toronto Maple Leafs. This will mark the first time since early 2020 that spectators will be permitted to attend a sporting event in person. Up to 2,500 socially distanced fans will be allowed into the Bell Centre to watch Game 6.

—Peter Muggeridge

May 27, 2021

Hajdu Urges Provinces to Use AZ supply

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu has sent a letter to provinces urging them to use their remaining doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine before they expire or send them to other parts of the country that need them. “I want to offer support to ensure that these doses are used before they expire in order to allow us to continue to offer second doses to Canadians and avoid wastage of vaccines,” says Hajdu. She asks provinces that can’t use the doses “to communicate with other provinces that may be well positioned to administer these doses within their system.” There has been great confusion around the AstraZeneca vaccine after several provinces paused its use after several patients developed a blood clotting condition. When provinces hit the pause button on the vaccine, they were left with thousands of doses on their hands. Ontario has as many as 45,000 surplus doses while Manitoba has 7,000, which are sitting unused approaching their best-before date. Ontario announced last week that it would offer its excess supply to those who already had their first jab, but many people are experiencing trouble finding pharmacies that offer the controversial vaccine.

President Biden Orders Investigation Into Virus Origin

U.S. President Joe Biden has notified his intelligence officials to “redouble” efforts to determine the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19. It has drawn a stern rebuke from China, where the disease first surfaced. The president issued a statement yesterday saying that that his government would work “with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence.” Biden has ordered his investigators to focus on two scenarios – 1) that the virus originated after human contact between humans and infected animals in a Wuhan market; 2) that the virus was developed in a Chinese laboratory. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reacted angrily to Biden’s announcement, calling the investigation a politically motivated “smear campaign” and adding that the U.S. “does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing.” Zhao also said that he “would like to ask the U.S. side to do the same as China and immediately cooperate with the World Health Organization on origin tracing research in a scientific manner.”

—Peter Muggeridge



May 26, 2021

New Case Counts Dropping Across Country

The third wave of COVID-19 appears to be waning as new cases continue to drop across the country. Most provinces (Manitoba, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador are the exceptions) are reporting that case counts have dropped by up to 40 per cent since the third wave began in mid-April. Yesterday, the seven-day average of new cases across the country dipped below 4,000, nearly 50 per cent lower than the 8,000 average that was common in the early part of the third wave. Hospitalizations and intensive care admissions were also down across most of the country, lending hope that the worst of the wave is over. This good news has allowed provinces like B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec to announce plans to gradually reduce restrictions and reopen businesses and services that have been shut down during the recent wave. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says the dropping case counts are due to health restrictions and vaccination efforts. “Our fastest moving trend is — happily — our vaccination coverage,” she said at a press conference yesterday. But she added her usual caution to individuals to remain vigilant, saying: “Regardless of your vaccinations status, following the advice of your local public health authority, choosing lower risk activities and settings, and keeping up with essential precautions will help protect the progress we’ve made and set us up for a better summer, while we get our house in order for a safer fall.”

Shorter Interval Between Doses?

Good news for those who are worried about the lengthy interval between receiving first and second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. With word yesterday from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that a healthy supply of vaccines are set to pour into this country over the next month, the Globe and Mail reported that some provinces announced they will be shortening the wait times between receiving first and second doses. “Everybody will be moved up, those appointments will be coming available, we’ll be getting second doses into people quickly,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s chief medical health officer. The Quebec government announced yesterday that if the province obtains enough vaccines, it is considering moving up the schedule to administer second doses in June. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who is part of panel of experts advising the Ontario government on its vaccine efforts, said: “We’re going to start second doses soon. It would make sense to provide second doses faster for vulnerable populations, which includes older adults.”

—Peter Muggeridge


May 25,  2021

Trudeau Promises a Much Better Summer

In a press conference today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded provincial vaccination efforts, saying, “more than half of Canadians have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.” The prime minister suggested that this number will “keep going up fast” as the country is expected to secure millions of more doses. “We now rank No. 3 in the G-20 on doses administered per capita,” said Trudeau, adding that “It’s clear that working together as one big Team Canada is paying off.”

Trudeau made a point of thanking health-care workers, hospitals, pharmacies and vaccination centres “for being part of this historic effort.” He urged them to “keep it up — we’re all so deeply grateful.” And he promised that if all Canadians get their dose and follow public health guidelines, “we will have a much better summer and get through this crisis once and for all.”

Second Dose Worries

As Canada’s first-dose vaccine efforts ramp up, many are now shifting their sites on when they will receive their second dose. According to CBC’s vaccine tracker, 21.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far, with Yukon and the Northwest Territories leading the way, each reporting that over 50 per cent of its residents have received both doses. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, tweeted  over the weekend that “an incredible 2,548,563 Canadians received a dose of #COVIDVaccines from May 9-15.” While politicians and health officials are lauding the quickened pace, only 4.4 per cent of all Canadians have received both doses. By comparison, recent data shows that 38.7 per cent of Americans have received both doses. Trudeau has repeatedly said that all Canadians who want a vaccine will be able to get both doses by September.

Manitoba Docs Call for Stricter Measures

While Ontario and Saskatchewan are releasing plans to reopen businesses and services, and Quebec is reporting its lowest daily increase of new cases in seven months,  a group of doctors in Manitoba issued a Victoria Day statement calling for stricter health measures in order to help the beleaguered province get on top of the COVID-19 outbreak. With 461 new cases reported on Sunday, Manitoba now has the highest per capita infection rate in the country. The spike in cases has seen 88 patients being cared for in intensive care, a record high since the pandemic started last year. “It’s clear that the rules are simply not good enough to get us out of this crisis,” the doctors’ statement reads. “Anyone who has a serious chronic condition, who may have an early cancer that needs to be diagnosed, or is in need of urgent surgery is now at great risk of not getting the care they need,” it continues.

—Peter Muggeridge


May 21, 2021

Ontario Incentivizes Vaccination With Reopening

If Ontarians want to get back to normal, they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. In what Premier Doug Ford is calling a ‘Roadmap to Reopen,’ 60 per cent of residents will need to have gotten a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in order for the province to move into the first phase — expected to begin mid-June, which will permit things like outdoor dining and day camps for the kids. If they want a haircut, 70 per cent of residents will need to have gotten a first jab and 20 per cent will need to have gotten a second. And for indoor events to resume, the province will need to see 25 per cent of residents fully vaccinated — 473, 759 were reported to have gotten two shots as of Thursday, about 3.2 per cent of the population. What will resume Saturday — before the province’s stay-at-home order is officially lifted, with 48 pre cent of people having gotten a first dose — is golf and outdoor amenities such as skate parks, along with the permitting people to meet outdoors in groups no more than five. “This is being done slowly and with extreme caution,” said Ford, after outlining the plan at a press conference Thursday. “This is the only way it will work.”

AZ 2nd Doses Will Be Offered in Ont.; Vaccines Coming Slower Than Expected

Ontario announced Friday that it will use up the roughly 55,000 doses of AstraZeneca it has — some of which are set to expire May 31 — to give second shots to residents who had a first dose, roughly 850,000 people, starting with those who got their jab March 10-19. But the province stopped short of unpausing AZ as a first dose, unless a person has allergies that prevent them from getting Pfizer or Moderna. When asked by a reporter to reassure people that getting a second shot is safe, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said: “The risk of getting COVID still far exceeds any risk associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.” Meanwhile, officials confirmed Thursday that Canada could receive as many as 10 million fewer vaccine doses than expected by the end of June — with shortages from AstraZeneca and Moderna. Asked at a press conference Thursday if Canada is still counting on getting the 48 million doses it had projected to receive by the end of June, Joelle Paquette, a director-general with Public Services and Procurement Canada, answered: “From the beginning our goal has been to have enough doses to vaccinate eligible Canadians by the end of September and I can say that we are on track to meet that goal.”

—Tara Losinski


May 20, 2021

Ontario Prepares to Reopen

Ontario expects to permit outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people and allow non-essential retail to operate at 15% capacity starting the week of June 14, contingent on certain vaccination rates being met, the premier announced on Thursday.

Canada’s most populous province has been under lockdown since early April when a third wave of the coronavirus threatened to overwhelm hospital capacity.

The reopening will be confirmed closer to the date, Premier Doug Ford said at a briefing in Toronto. The province will reopen outdoor amenities — including playgrounds, basketball courts and golf courses — as of Saturday.

COVID-19 cases have been falling steadily in Ontario, and new modeling from the government released earlier on Thursday showed that if restrictions were maintained until mid-June, cases would likely remain under control.

“We’re now in a position to look at a slow and measured reopening of the province,” Ford said. “This is being done slowly and with extreme caution.”

Step one of a three-step reopening will also include outdoor dining with up to four people per table, a government release said.

Entering step one will require 60 per cent of eligible Ontario adults to have received at least one vaccine dose. Each step will last for at least 21 days, the release said.

The plan is largely in step with what public health officials recommended when explaining the new case modeling.

Ford’s government took heavy criticism from all sides for reopening too soon in March, which resulted in the punishing third wave and overwhelmed the province’s healthcare systems.

“The direction of the pandemic has turned and if we’re careful and cautious, we can maintain this momentum,” Dr. Steini Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said at a briefing before Ford’s announcement.


(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)


Ontario Will Give Second Shots of AstraZeneca

One can hardly keep up with the flip-flopping over the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Canada’s recommendation for who should get the shot has changed four times since its approval near the end of February — not to mention provincial starts and stops. In yet another change, according to a Toronto Star report Ontario is expected to announce within days that it will proceed with second shots after pausing the vaccine’s use just last week over growing concern of blood clot risk. There are reported to be tens of thousands of doses set to expire on May 31, but the province’s Health Minister Christine Elliott Wednesday said:”Nothing will be wasted.” Ontario’s New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath says it would be “devastating” if any vaccine doses expired. “With the clock ticking, there needs to be a decision made,” she said.

People who have gotten their first AZ shot have been in limbo across the country, with most provinces also suspending use of the vaccine last week. A Spanish study released earlier this week points to a safe and effective outcome when participants took the Pfizer vaccine as their second dose, and Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam said Tuesday that Canadians who’ve had their first shot of AstraZeneca should be able to choose what they take as a second shot. But Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization has yet to weigh in on mixing vaccines, and so provinces and people are left waiting.


A Tale of Two Third Waves

As Ontario Premier Doug Ford outlined his province’s reopening strategy on Thursday, neighbouring Manitoba this week transferred three patients to a hospital in Thunder Bay, Ont., for lack of ICU capacity. Manitobans will come under tighter restrictions as a third wave of COVID-19 continues to surge in the province. “Case counts spiked after Thanksgiving. Case counts spiked after Easter and spring break. We can’t have the same thing happen after the May long weekend,” said Premier Brian Pallister at a press conference Thursday. He also implored residents to get vaccinated, with second dose booking beginning Friday and details of a vaccine incentive program coming next week. “Do it so you can see family and friends. Do it so you can go to dinner and a movie. Do it so you can go to church. Do it to help your child get back to school,” he said, choking up a little before adding. “Do it so you can never give someone else COVID-19.”

—Tara Losinski


May 19, 2021

Fans in the Stands for a Playoff Game?

If the round one series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens plays out long enough, fans may be able to watch a game live at Montreal’s Bell Centre. As part of Quebec’s reopening plan, Premier François Legault Tuesday outlined the easing of restrictions, which will begin May 28, that include eating on patios and decks outside of restaurants; outdoor gatherings of up to eight people on private property; travel between regions of Quebec; and up to 2,500 people in a large theatre or arena. In a release following the announcement, the Canadiens applauded the move and confirmed that, yes, they are game for it. “Regarding the Montreal Canadiens and the playoffs, under the new rules, the Bell Centre will initially accommodate 2,500 people — or about 12% of capacity — for a hockey game beyond May 28. We really missed our fans and spectators and we can’t wait to host them again. And we will be ready,” read a statement from France Margaret Bélanger, the team’s executive vice-president and chief commercial officer.

Of course, in a flip-flopping manner seen throughout the pandemic, there was a contradicting message just earlier in the day — before Quebec’s press conference — from Canada’s Public Health Agency. “I would say if you look at that timing and what’s the schedule for the NHL playoffs, which is taking place right now and into the summer months, it’s not really something that’s under serious consideration in terms of fans in the stands, just based on where we are with our vaccination campaign at this point,” said Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo at a press conference in Ottawa. Meanwhile, Alberta and Manitoba, both with teams in the playoffs, have said that fans in the stands is not in the cards. In hearing Quebec’s plans Tuesday evening, Alberta Premier Jason said: “If they can do that, bully to them, but they paid a very high price in getting those numbers down with by far the most draconian restrictions in Canada.”

Cross-Border Vaxing

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Tuesday that the Canada-U.S. border would remain closed to non-essential travel until more than 75 pre cent of Canadians are vaccinated, it hasn’t;t stopped Alberta residents from taking a quick trip into Montana — to get vaccinated. As the Toronto Star reports, Albertans were invited by the Blackfoot Tribe in neighbouring Montana, starting last month, to share in its abundant supply of vaccines. Canadians who attend the drive-through clinic are given exemption from the 14-day quarantine required for residents crossing back into the country. They drive through a loop that takes them just across the border, receive their shots through the car window, are monitored for 15 minutes and then return home. Tuesday marked the beginning of second shots at the vaccination clinic and, as the Star reported, the lineup at the border crossing between Cardston County, Alta., and Glacier County, Mo., was more than a kilometre long by 9 a.m. Cathy and Dave Goodbrand were two of the many who came, driving 260 kilometres from Calgary. “We’re happy to get down here. It’s a relief. Four months is too long to wait in between vaccines,” said Cathy. “It’s absolutely beautiful. The Blackfoot Indians are just coming through [for us].”

—Tara Losinski


May 18, 2021

“Promising Results” From Homegrown Vaccine 

Quebec-based Medicago today released what it’s calling “promising results” from a Phase 2 trial of its plant-derived COVID-19 vaccine candidate — the only homegrown vaccine the federal government is reported to have a deal to purchase, if approved. “After two doses, the adjuvanted vaccine candidate induced robust neutralizing antibody and cellular immune responses in all subjects, irrespectively of age,” Nathalie Landry, Executive Vice President, Scientific and Medical Affairs at Medicago, said in a statement, adding that the shot has potential as a booster. “We hope to add another tool in the global fight against COVID-19, particularly as cross-protection emerges as an important consideration in vaccination efforts worldwide.” Trial participants, which included healthy adults 18-64 years of age, elderly subjects aged 65 and over and adults with comorbidities, were found to have neutralizing antibody responses ten times higher than in people recovering from COVID-19. No serious adverse reactions were observed, the company also reported.

In partnership with Britain pharma GlaxoSmithKline, Medicago developed the refrigerator-stable shot using a virus-like particle — grown from a cousin of the tobacco plant — employed to trick the immune system into mounting a defence to what it thinks is an infection of coronavirus. Phase 3 trials will include 30,000 volunteers, from Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Brazil, with the vaccine already in regulatory review by Health Canada.

Vaccine Rollout Gets New Boss

With less than half of Canadians having had a first COVID-19 vaccine shot, the government has had to scramble to replace the head of its rollout, with the sudden departure of Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin Friday, after an allegation of sexual misconduct was raised. The Public Health Agency of Canada announced Tuesday that Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie,  a 30-year Armed Forces veteran and army logistics officer, will take the reins. “Brigadier-General Brodie has played a pivotal role in the vaccine rollout as part of the initial deployment to the agency in November.” said PHAC president Iain Stewart. “Following a brief return to the Canadian Armed Forces in February as the commander of military personnel generation group, Brigadier-General Brodie’s appointment allows for a seamless transition as she resumes her leadership role with PHAC.” The prime minister is expected to take questions about the situation at a press conference Tuesday. The only comments to come from Ottawa so far were by Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, who said Monday that she has “every confidence that Canadians will not feel any impact in terms of vaccine rollout,” as Canadian Forces members “are experts in logistics and operations” and there are built-in “redundancies” for “when someone steps aside,” including others who are trained to “keep the mission going.”

—Tara Losinski

May 17, 2021

Sanofi-GSK Vaccine up to 100% Effective

Another viral vector COVID-19 vaccine candidate is showing promise. Phase 2 trial results from the shot developed by French drug maker Sanofi and Britain-based GlaxoSmithKline showed a 95 to 100 per cent efficacy following a second injection in all age groups (18 to 95 years old), with no safety concerns.
The drug makers could be seen as late to the game, in part for having to stop and retool the vaccine in December when trial results showed low immune response in older adults, but they are looking to a silver lining. “Interestingly, we also observed that our vaccine generated a higher antibody response in those with previous COVID-19 infection, we are analyzing this further as it may suggest our vaccine could serve as a potential booster, regardless of what vaccine someone may have received (beforehand),” Su-Peing Ng, Sanofi’s global head of medical for vaccines, told reporters Monday. The vaccine will move into a global Phase 3 trial, involving more than 35,000 volunteers, in the coming weeks, with approved hoped to come by the fourth quarter.

Sanofi does have a purchase agreement with Canada, should their COVID-19 vaccine be approved. And in March, the federal government announced that it was investing $415 million to help develop the company’s new vaccine production facility in Toronto.

Working ‘Pandemic Hours’ Not Worth It, WHO

If it feels like the hours you’ve been pulling are ‘killing you,’ you might not be wrong. It turns out, working more than 55 hours a week increases the risk of death from heart disease and stroke, according to a United Nations study released Monday. The research, by the UN’s World Health Organization and International Labour Organization agencies, is the first global review of risk to life and health associated with long work hours. Findings showed that, compared to working between 35 and 40 hours, working 55 hours or more a week was associated with an estimated 35 per cent increase in the risk of suffering a stroke, and a 17 per cent rise in the risk of dying from ischemic heart disease. What’s more, between 2000 and 2016, heart disease-related deaths linked to long hours increased by 42 per cent, as did stroke, by 19 per cent. The head of the WHO sounded a warning today, particularly about the ‘pandemic pace’ at which we’re running. “Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”

—Tara Losinski


May 14, 2021

Ford: “Just Hang in There”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced yesterday that the province-wide stay-at-home order will remain in effect for at least another two weeks. The premier said despite falling case counts of COVID-19, the order would remain in place until June 2. “As much as we’re seeing a decline, which is good, everyone is moving forward, we’re getting the vaccines in to people’s arms, but we just can’t risk it. Just hang in there, we aren’t asking a lot, just a couple more weeks,” said Ford in a press conference yesterday. He claimed that the continuation of the stay-at-home order would help bring about the possibility of the “most normal July and August possible.” At the same event, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical health officer, suggested that daily case counts would have to drop below 1,000 before restrictions could be loosened. Yesterday, the province reported 2,759 new cases. On the vaccine front, the premier announced that more than six million residents have received at least one dose, and that more than 400,000 have received both doses.

Saskatchewan’s Vax Rollout Chugging Along

From Saskatchewan comes encouraging news about the effectiveness of the vaccine. Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, said that early results show the vaccine is 99 per cent effective in reducing the infection rate of COVID-19. “I think this is quite remarkable actually, that with just one dose the vaccine is protecting us so well. That reinforces the fact that all of us need to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Shahab in a press conference. One of the leading provinces in vaccination distribution, Saskatchewan has administered the first dose to at least half of its residents, and shots are now being offered to people as young as 26. With its immunization campaign rolling out smoothly, Saskatchewan also became the first province to release a Re-Opening Roadmap, which will allow businesses and services to gradually resume operations three weeks after 70 per cent of people aged 40 and over have received their first vaccine dose.

—Peter Muggeridge


May 13, 2021

Early Results from Vax-Mixing Study

Many Canadians who will be forced to mix and match their first and second vaccine doses, especially those living in Ontario and Alberta where the AstraZeneca rollout has been paused, are waiting anxiously for the scientific community to provide advice on the matter. Yesterday, The Lancet released early data from one study that suggests that beyond increased minor side effects, mixing and matching vaccine doses poses no major safety concerns.

The researchers studied the outcome of 463 patients (all over the age of 50) who received a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on top of their first dose of AstraZeneca. While the study reported no major health complications from those who received a different second shot, researchers did discover that 34 per cent reported feeling feverish after receiving the Pfizer second dose, as opposed to only 10 per cent who felt feverish after receiving the AstraZeneca for both doses. Many of the patients in the study who mixed vaccines also reported experiencing minor symptoms such as chills, headaches, fatigue and pain, which usually disappeared within two days. Importantly, there were no cases of Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT), which caused the AstraZeneca pause in the first place.

Unfortunately, the study did not reveal whether mixing two vaccines affects the body’s immune response in fighting the virus. The answer to this hugely important concern will have to wait a few weeks. “The full picture will be clearer when we see the antibody picture and see whether this [adverse reaction] has led to an improved immune response,” says Dr. Matthew Snape, professor at the Oxford Vaccine Group who led the study.


Alberta Reaches Vax Milestone but Cases Still Soaring

Despite Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney’s assurances that the province is in the “homestretch” of the COVID-19 battle, yesterday’s total of nearly 1,800 new cases suggests they’re not quite there yet. As the province is set to pass the milestone of two million vaccine doses administered, the latest wave  sweeping through Alberta is causing enormous strain on hospital system, with over 700 patients being treated in hospital and 169 in intensive care. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s medical health officer, said yesterday that the active case count in Alberta was the second-highest since the outbreak of the virus last year, with Calgary being the hardest-hit region. In the face of such dire numbers, Hinshaw, however, sounded an optimistic note saying, “there are positive signs that transmission may be starting to slow.”

—Peter Muggeridge


May 12, 2021

Ontario became the second province to “pause” the use of the controversial Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in its immunization campaign against COVID-19.

In a press conference yesterday, Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said that the province would follow Alberta’s lead and “pause the rollout and administration of first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Williams said that the move to halt the use of the controversial vaccine, which has been administered largely through pharmacies, was made “out of an abundance of caution.” He admitted that the increased incidence of patients developing a blood clotting syndrome known as Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) after receiving their doses, “shouldn’t be underestimated.”

It was originally thought that VITT occurred in only one in 100,000 cases. However, the most recent data suggests that it’s more like one in 55,000 cases — still rare but far too high to brush off as inconsequential. Canada has reported 12 cases of VITT out of 2.3 million doses administered, with eight of these occurring in Ontario. Williams also noted that his decision to halt AstraZeneca was made easier by the fact that more of the mRNA-based vaccines (from Pfizer and Moderna) are arriving in Canada, lessening our dependence on AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca officials have so far not responded to the latest developments. In a March 18 press release, the pharmaceutical company that makes the vaccine responded to VITT concerns, calling it “very rare” and noting that “this has been reported in fewer than one in a million people vaccinated so far in the U.K., and can also occur naturally — a causal association with the vaccine has not been established.” In a March 14 release, AstraZeneca claimed that “the company is keeping this issue under close review but available evidence does not confirm that the vaccine is the cause.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine rollout has been a public relations disaster since it was approved for use here in late February. At first, public health officials indicated that it should not be given to those over 65. In mid-March, these guidelines changed, and health officials suggested that it was safe for all age groups. In late March, however, public health officials again changed their message, advising that it should only be made available to those younger than 55. In mid-April, many provincial health officials switched course yet again and began offering the dose to anyone over 18. And now, in mid-May, Ontario and Alberta have both paused its use.

According to the Toronto Star, 900,000 doses of AstraZeneca were administered in Ontario before the pause, creating an aura of anxiety among recipients about mixing vaccines in order to get their second shot. Last week, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam spoke about the advisability of mixing vaccines, saying researchers are currently studying the question and that “there will be further advice forthcoming.”

The chaos surrounding the AstraZeneca pause hasn’t been helped by the mixed messages Canadians are getting from politicians. Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will continue to import AstraZeneca vaccines. And last week Trudeau urged Canadians to take the first dose offered to them, claiming that “every vaccine administered in Canada is safe and effective, as evaluated by Health Canada.”

—Peter Muggeridge


May 11, 2021

Poll Suggests Most Canadians Remain Happy, But Less so With All Levels of Government Over Handling of Pandemic 

Leger today released its latest poll on how Canadians are feeling about COVID-19, with nearly half (41 per cent) of respondents believing we are in the worst period of the crisis, and only just over half (55 per cent) saying they felt optimistic about the coming year. Despite this, when the firm (who surveyed 1,529 people online between May 7 and May 9) asked Canadians about their mental state through the pandemic, 43 per cent reported it was good while another 32 per cent said it was very good/excellent.

The poll suggests that Canadians have confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, despite continually changing recommendations for their use and safety concerns over blood clot risk from the viral vector shots — it was reported today that Alberta will stop giving first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and will use remaining supply for second doses only. More than eight in 10 people surveyed said they are either already vaccinated or plan to be when it’s their turn. That’s up from six in 10 people last October, and seven in 10 in January. “Pretty much every government in the Western Hemisphere would be happy if 82 per cent of adults did get vaccinated,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque. And it seems those with confidence may help move the needle further, with 44 per cent of respondents saying that they’ve attempted to change the mind of a friend or family member refusing to get vaccinated.

The poll also suggests that the majority of Canadians are open to the idea of vaccine passports; 61 per cent agreed that the government should implement proof of vaccination for public events/gatherings. Consensus grew to 82 per cent when people were asked if non-Canadians entering the country should have to provide a vaccine passport, and almost as many respondents, 79 per cent, believe that should extend to Canadians who wish to travel by plane within or outside the country. However, only just over half of those surveyed believe the government should have the right to limit employees in health-care settings — including long-term care homes — to people with proof of vaccination.

And although only 54 per cent of people said they were somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19, nearly eight in 10 people said “no,” when asked if governments should lift all restrictions. But are Canadians happy with restrictions put in place to help fight the coronavirus? Only about half of those surveyed said they were satisfied with measures by federal (50 per cent), provincial (52 per cent) or municipal (58 per cent) governments. Provincially, satisfaction was lowest in Alberta, 29 per cent, where restrictions have recently ratcheted back up under a third-wave surge — and in Ontario, 37 per cent, where hot spots have been under North America’s longest lockdown, which is expected to continue into June.

And if Canadians had to vote in federal elections today would Prime Minister Justin Trudeau get back in? (He said Tuesday that “restrictions need to stay in place until at least 75 per cent of the population has at least their first shot,” adding that expected supply will allow Canadians who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — 82 per cent, according to the Leger poll — to get a second dose by September.) The poll suggests that, yes, the Liberals (with 27 per cent) would narrowly edge out the Conservatives (25 per cent) while the NDP would get 16 per cent of the vote followed by the Bloc and Green Party, with six per cent each.

—Tara Losinski

May 10, 2021

Domestic Overtakes International Flights Linked to COVID

A report by the Globe and Mail suggests that domestic flights now account for the most transport of COVID-19 through Canadian airports. Between Jan. 1 and May 5, a total of 1,873 flights arrived or departed from airports across the country with at least one passenger later testing positive, according to tracking by Transport Canada. The agency updates its data regularly to advise the public of potential exposure on all flights as well as on ships, trains and buses. Whereas international flights accounted for more 60 per cent of cases linked to air travel between January and February, domestic flights now account for more than 60 per cent of those cases.

While there have been repeated calls from provincial leaders to further restrict international travel, we must now turn our attention inward says UBC associate professor Srinivas Murthy, an infectious disease expert who is co-leading the Canadian arm of the World Health Organization’s global Solidarity Trial testing coronavirus vaccines. “All of our attention on our national border doesn’t really address us solving the problem internally,” he told the Globe.

In B.C., which saw just over 100 domestic flights, between Mar. 19 and April 9, later linked to infections, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth says “this is not the time to visit” his province. His government wants Ottawa to implement negative COVID tests for travellers flying within Canada, as is required for international travel. Meanwhile, Halifax’s airport authority president, Joyce Carter, says that she’s waiting for a go ahead from the province to extend COVID testing at the airport. Currently used for arriving temporary foreign workers, she said Saturday that testing of any and all arriving passengers “could be up and running on a day’s notice” and to help combat the province’s third wave, she’d like it implemented “sooner rather than later.”

Quebecers Testing Digital Vaccine Passport

Starting Thursday, Quebec will begin issuing digital proof, in the form of a QR code — a barcode that can be scanned using a cellphone app — as well as a paper copy to people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. In an interview with Radio-Canada, the province’s economy minister, Pierre Fitzgibbon, said the QR code, or some sort of vaccine passport, would be important for businesses to get back to normal. “I think businesses will use it because they have a need to keep their employees safe; they have a need to keep their clients safe,” Fitzgibbon said in a pre-recorded interview that was broadcast Sunday. He used the example of restaurants using the code as proof of vaccination, saying that such businesses could “benefit from this technological tool.” Quebec’s Public Health Director Horacio Arruda said his department has yet to make a recommendation on the issue of such vaccine passports. “We want to do a good analysis given the ethical issues, among others,” Arruda said last week. “I think it could have a certain utility, ok. We’re not saying No; we’re saying we have to look at it.”

IOC President Cancels Visit to Japan

With just over 10 weeks to go until the Olympics are set to open in Tokyo, in a statement Monday it was confirmed that International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has cancelled a trip to Japan because of surging cases of COVID-19. Bach was supposed to arrive next Monday to meet the torch relay in Hiroshima and then travel on to Tokyo, where a state of emergency has been extended to May 31. Although polls show that between 60 and 80 per cent of Japan’s population say the Olympics should be once again postponed, or cancelled, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it’s up to the IOC as to whether the games go ahead. “My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population,” Suga said. “Let me address that clearly. In terms of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is important that we must first prevent the spread of the virus. The IOC has already made a decision to hold the Games and notified countries as such.”

—Tara Losinski

May 7, 2021

First Pfizer Dose More Effective Than Qatar Study Reported: Ontario Expert

Medical experts have raised questions about the real-world data from Qatar showing one shot of the vaccine against B.1.1.7 the so-called British variant accounting for more than 90 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario — provided protection of only 30 percent, as reported yesterday. Medical experts, and even the study’s own author, said it was inaccurate to draw any conclusions from the data about the effectiveness of the first dose. The study did not specify how long after those first doses infections occurred, and the participants received a second dose at just three weeks, so the effectiveness of the first dose was measured from the time the dose was given — before its protection kicked in — and was not measured beyond the 21 days, when the second dose was given. Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s chief coroner, outbreak co-ordinator and a member of its vaccine task force, said the province’s own data shows that one dose of Pfizer has 70-per-cent effectiveness in stopping infections after 42 to 48 days. A second dose pushes that number to more than 90 per cent.

Record Number of Vaccines Administered in a Single Day in Ontario, Quebec

Ontario reported a new milestone in its COVID-19 vaccination effort Thursday, with 141,038 doses administered on Wednesday. It’s the first time more than 140,000 doses have been given. Ontario is scheduled to receive close to 800,000 Pfizer doses per week through to the end of May and that figure is set to rise to around 940,000 doses in each week of June. Those aged 50 and up are now eligible to book a vaccination appointment across the province, while all eligible people 18 and over in hot spots can now book. Quebec also reached a milestone, administering a record 102,700 vaccine doses. People aged 35 and over can now get vaccinated in Quebec. The province is reportedly working on a reopening plan linked to hitting vaccination numbers. 

Nova Scotia Hits New High in Daily Cases

Nova Scotia reported 182 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a single-day record, as the number of active cases in the province surpassed 1,300. As of Thursday, there were 45 people in hospital, including nine in ICU. Since May 1, the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to rise steadily in Nova Scotia, even as the numbers in Ontario and Quebec have dropped.

Canada Joining Talks on Waiving Vaccine Patents

Canada agreed Thursday to join World Trade Organization talks on waiving the rules that protect COVID-19 vaccine patents — a measure drug companies and a number of world leaders say would only slow down production. International Trade Minister Mary Ng broke the news during question period in the House of Commons. The U.S. made a similar commitment on Wednesday.

Leading U.S. Politician Calls for Border Opening

U.S. senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is calling on Canadian and U.S. officials to release their plans to “safely reopen the border to non-essential travel after more than a year of pandemic-related shutdowns.” In the interim, Schumer, the senior senator from New York, is calling on both governments to broaden the definition of essential travellers to include vaccinated people who have property, educational, medical or business reasons for crossing the border.  In a letter released Wednesday, Schumer called for a “transparent, bilateral, and public plan” based on public health data and guidance, with specific standards, protocols, and metrics for reopening the border, to be released as soon as possible. “Due to the rising rates of vaccinated Americans and the subsequent decline in cases in New York and elsewhere, it has become abundantly clear that an agreement can and should be reached to safely accommodate the border communities without compromising the fight against COVID-19,” reads the letter, addressed to the U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary. In late April, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said international and U.S. border restrictions will be in place for another month, at least, as the country grapples with a third wave of the coronavirus. The U.S. remains far ahead of Canada in the number of residents who are fully vaccinated, 32.1 per cent of the population compared to 3.1 per cent of Canadians. However, Canada is catching up in the rate of those who have received their first dose, with 44.4 per cent of Americans getting one jab, compared to 35.5 per cent of Canadians, according to the vaccine tracker.

—Judy Gerstel


May 6, 2021

Single Pfizer Dose Is 55 per cent Effective at Preventing Hospitalization or Death From B.1.1.7

A new study involving 40,000 people tested for COVID-19 in Qatar found a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNech vaccine was only 29.5 per cent effective at preventing infection by the B.1.1.7 — the so-called U.K. variant now pervasive in Ontario. The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday found one shot of the Pfizer vaccine was only 54.5 per cent effective in preventing “severe, critical or fatal” outcomes due to infection by the B.1.1.7 variant. Public Health Ontario said in recent weeks that more than 90 per cent of positive samples it screens appear to have the characteristics of the B.1.1.7 variant. Among those who received both doses of Pfizer, the vaccine’s efficacy against infection by B.1.1.7, with or without symptoms, was 87 per cent, increasing to 90 per cent 14 days after the second dose. It was 100 per cent effective against severe symptoms requiring hospitalization or death.

New Survey Shows Majority of Canadians Support Proof of Vaccination for Travel and Large Events

A strong majority of Canadians are in favour of travellers being required to show proof of vaccination prior to domestic travel or to attend a large group gathering. The results of the new Nanos survey, announced yesterday by CTV News, showed that 74 per cent of respondents say they either “support” or “somewhat support” it being “mandatory to produce a proof of vaccination for anyone travelling between regions in Canada or attending a large gathering like a concert or sporting event.” Twenty-four per cent either “oppose” or “somewhat oppose” it, and two per cent remain “unsure.”

Earlier this week, Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada is working with international partners to develop a standardized vaccine certification for travel and will position itself as a safe destination once the country has reached COVID-19 herd immunity. That’s unlikely to happen for a few reasons, Simon Fraser University mathematics professor Paul Tupper told the Canadian Press. The virus is being transmitted worldwide, which means it is reintroduced in different places across borders and immunity doesn’t last permanently. The vaccines don’t seem to be completely effective against some of the new variants, he said. “So, I think what is more likely to happen is that we end up in a situation like we have with seasonal flu. We have to live with the flu, and I think something similar is going to happen with COVID.”

Earlier in the pandemic, the threshold for herd immunity was estimated at about 70 per cent. But more recent estimates range as high as 80 or even close to 90 per cent. One of the biggest reasons for the increase is that new variants are estimated to be 50 to 60 per cent more transmissible.

Albertans Age 12 to 15 Can Make Vaccine Appointments Starting Monday

The day after Health Canada’s approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was the first to announce that starting on Monday, his province would make vaccines available to everyone aged 12 and up. Those born in 1991 and earlier can start booking their vaccines on Friday, while those born between 1992 and 2009 can make an appointment starting Monday. Meanwhile, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a member of Ontario’s vaccine task force, said Ontario likely won’t begin vaccinating kids until later this summer.

A Third “Jab” for Brits Over 50 in the Works

In Britain, they’re already talking about a third, or booster “jab” in the fall for people age 50 and over. The goal is to eradicate the threat from COVID-19 entirely by Christmas, reports The London Times.

Trials of two options are under way. The first involves vaccines specifically modified to tackle new variants. The second is for a third shot of one of the three versions already in use: Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca or Moderna. The Times has been told that early findings from the trials have raised hopes that the two approaches will be able to block any threat from new and existing variants. It is also thought that it will only be necessary to give a third jab to the people over 50 and those with underlying health conditions. One way of delivering the booster would be at the same time as the annual flu jab, but in the other arm.


Canada Not Yet Joining U.S. in Waiving Vaccine Patents

 In a major policy shift, the Biden administration announced yesterday that the United States will now support a proposal from developing countries to allow a temporary waiver on COVID-19 vaccine patents. The move allows new suppliers to begin manufacturing the vaccines, reducing the desperate global shortage.

The Canadian government, however, is still weighing its options, said Foreign Affairs minister Marc Garneau. Discussion on whether to lift patents, as was done in the AIDS crisis, was “very active,” he said in an interview on CTV.

“Canada’s position is that we need to obtain more vaccines, we need to all put more money into the COVAX program, and by the way, Canada is the fourth largest contributor to the COVAX program, and we need to discuss with manufacturers whether they’re prepared to make licensing arrangements to allow greater production of the vaccine,” he said.

The WTO operates on consensus and cannot approve a new policy if key countries are opposing it. The U.S. had previously refused to support a patent waiver, which the pharmaceutical industry has vocally opposed. “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement. “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”

—Judy Gerstel

May 5, 2021

Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 and older. Previously, it was restricted to those 16 and older. The authorization for this age group, the first in the world, was based on a trial of more than 2,200 youth in that age group in the United States, which recorded no cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated kids. The trial used the same size doses, and the same two-dose requirement, as the vaccine for adults. The U.S. is expected to approve the mRNA vaccine for the 12 to 16 age group next week. Results of a trial for younger children should be available soon, and there are ongoing studies with children as young as six months. At the press event this morning, Dr. Supriya Sharma, Chief Medical Advisor for Health Canada, said about one-fifth of all cases of COVID-19 in Canada have occurred in children and teenagers, and having a vaccine for them is a critical part of Canada’s plan. “While younger people are less likely to experience serious cases of COVID-19, having access to a safe and effective vaccine will help to control the disease’s spread to their families and friends — some of whom may be at a higher risk of complications,” Sharma said. 

Alberta is near the top of the news today for two reasons. First, the province confirmed that a woman in her 50s died from a rare blood clot after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. She is the second person in Canada to die from this disorder linked to the vaccine. At this morning’s press event, Health Canada’s Dr. Sharma said the risk of the blood clot following the AstraZeneca shot is about one in 100,000. “You have to look at the risks and benefits, and you have to look at the context and you have to look at the risks of not getting vaccinated and potentially getting COVID-19,” she said. “[All the vaccines] are very, very effective in combatting COVID-19 serious infections, hospitalization and death.”

With Alberta’s COVID-10 case rate notching higher than any other jurisdiction in Canada or the U.S., Premier Jason Kenney announced new restrictions last night, including online schooling. Unusually, the premier went on live television in the evening to advise Albertans that K-12 schooling would go online until May 25 and gatherings must be limited to five people. Patio dining is no longer allowed, with restaurants restricted to takeout.

—Judy Gerstel

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