COVID-19 Tracker: Outbreaks Spike in Canadian Long-Term Care; Quebec Cannabis, Liquor Stores to Require Vaccination Proof

Covid Tracker

What you need to know about COVID-19 in Canada as the global pandemic continues. Photo: sv_sunny/Getty Images

Jan. 7, 2022

Outbreaks Spike in Canadian LTC, Retirement Homes 

As of Thursday, 1,042 Canadian LTC and retirement homes have active COVID-19 outbreaks, compared to 76 two weeks ago, Toronto’s Sinai Hospital geriatrician Dr. Samir Sinha reports in a tweet, referring to an LTC tracker maintained by the National Institute on Ageing. There are two in New Brunswick, two in P.E.I,, eight in Nova Scotia, 14 in Manitoba, 14 in Saskatchewan, 26 in British Columbia, 31 in Alberta, 436 in Ontario, 509 in Quebec.

Quebec Cannabis, Liquor Stores to Require Vaccination Proof

Quebec is expanding its vaccination requirement to provincial liquor and cannabis stores, and warning that other retail is next, reports the Globe and Mail.

The measures in Quebec are part of an effort to clamp down on unvaccinated residents, who are far more likely to be hospitalized with COVID.

“Unfortunately, we have to protect them against themselves, and protect our health system,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said in a news conference Thursday. “If they don’t want to get vaccinated, they can stay home.”

He announced that provincial liquor and cannabis stores will require customers to have proof of vaccination to enter starting on Jan. 18. And he warned that other non-essential services, such as shopping malls and hair salons, could soon be required to ask for a vaccination passport — a step that could aggressively limit freedom of movement for the unvaccinated.

Ontario Reports Pandemic High in Hospitalized Cases

Today Ontario is reporting 11,899 new cases of COVID-19 and a pandemic high of 2,472 people hospitalized with COVID-19. There were 43 more deaths.

Also, Critical Care Services Ontario is reporting 332 adult patients with COVID-related critical illness (CRCI) in ICUs. 176 CRCI patients were ventilated. There were 57 new adult admissions. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 265.

Child-Care Workers, School Staff Fast-Tracked for Boosters in Ontario 

Ontario will fast-track booster shots for education and child-care workers, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Thursday. The Ontario government is working with public-health units to set aside booster appointments specifically for child-care workers, teachers, custodians, administrators and school-bus drivers the Globe and Mail reports.

Starting today, staff in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area will have “planned access to vaccines” at the International Centre in Mississauga after the school day, Lecce said in a statement. He said the provincial government would work with other public-health units to “urgently set up more clinics across Ontario.”

Study: Vaccine May Affect Menstrual Cycle

People who received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine during a menstrual cycle had an increase in cycle length of nearly one day compared to those who were unvaccinated, according to a new study reported by CTV News.

The increase in cycle length, a longer time between bleeding, did not result in any change in the number of days of menses, or days of bleeding.

Menstrual cycles typically vary from month to month, the researchers said, and the observed increase was well within the range of normal variability, which is eight days.

“It is reassuring that the study found only a small, temporary menstrual change in women,” Dr. Diana W. Bianchi, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), said in a news release.

The NICHD is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which funded the study.

Menstrual changes in response to the vaccine wouldn’t be surprising, experts said back in April, because women have more robust immune responses to vaccinations.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed Obstetrics & Gynecology. The authors suggested that additional research is needed to determine how COVID-19 vaccines could potentially influence other menstrual characteristics, such as associated symptoms, including pain and mood changes, and characteristics of bleeding, including heaviness of flow.

British Army to Help in London Hospitals on “War Footing” 

British soldiers were deployed to hospitals in London to alleviate severe staff shortages caused by the COVID-19 omicron variant, reports Deutche Welle.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense said on Friday military medics would assist with patient care while other troops help fill gaps caused by other absences.

The deployment underscores the impact of the new Omicron variant on Britain’s health service. Nearly 180,000 people in the U.K. were infected on Thursday.

“We have never known this level of staff absence before,” a British Medical Association official told Sky News.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday said hospitals were on “war footing” due to staff shortages, with many hospital groups declaring “critical incidents” because of the threat to essential services.

Judy Gerstel


Jan. 6, 2022

Omicron Now Hitting Seniors in Ontario

With Omicron now infecting Ontario seniors at record rates, experts are warning about the risk of explosive growth in hospitalizations among these vulnerable adults, reports the Toronto Star.

Cases among those 60 or older have skyrocketed this month. Ontario reported another 1,596 confirmed cases in the age group on Wednesday, including another 354 in seniors over 80. Despite the fact that case counts are under-reported, these totals are now significantly higher than the worst single-day highs of previous waves.

More than 92 per cent of Ontarians 60-plus have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but, as of Wednesday, only about 58 per cent had received a booster, according to the province.

“The biggest concern is, are we going to have enough beds available even to provide basic levels of care for COVID patients coming in that don’t necessarily require an ICU bed, but require a bed nonetheless? The worry is that we might not have enough of those,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network.

“The people who will pay the biggest price around that will be older adults.”

Meanwhile, reports of outbreaks in vulnerable settings like seniors’ homes and hospitals are also spiking this week. The 110 active COVID outbreaks in Ontario hospitals are another record high for the province.

As the Star has previously reported, Ontario hospitals have been the second-deadliest setting for COVID infections in the province, after long-term care homes.

Starting today, the province is imposing a suite of new restrictions including gym closures, a 21-day ban on indoor dining at restaurants, capacity limits in malls and businesses as well as for indoor and outdoor social gatherings.

Ontario today reported 13,339 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 2,279 people hospitalized with the disease and 319 patients in ICUs. The seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 related patients in ICUs is 252.

Record Increase of Cases in One Day in Many Countries

The U.S. reported 716,714 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, breaking the previous day’s record, setting a new record for the biggest one-day increase for any country in the world since the pandemic began, and shattering all-time highs in 25 states, led by Florida, according to BNO News/NewsNodes tracker. Also, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Australia each reported the biggest one-day increase on record of new COVID-19 cases.

Canadian Armed Forces to Assist With Vaccinations in Nova Scotia, Quebec

Nova Scotia’s premier said Wednesday that a couple dozen members of the Canadian Armed Forces are expected to arrive in the province over the next couple weeks to help roll out booster shots for COVID-19 vaccines, reports CTV News.

Nova Scotia reported 842 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday.

In Ontario, opposition parties are pressuring Premier Doug Ford to call in the military as Omicron threatens to overwhelm Ontario hospitals with rising patient numbers and staff staying home with symptoms.

Earlier this week, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Canadian Armed Forces personnel would be deployed to Quebec to assist with vaccinations, in response to a request by the province.

Italy Makes COVID Vaccine Compulsory for Over 50s

Italy has announced that COVID-19 vaccinations will become compulsory for anyone over the age of 50 from next month in an effort to tackle surging infections, reports The Telegraph. Those over 50 represent nearly half of Italy’s population.

“We are working in particular on the age groups that are most at risk of being hospitalized, to reduce pressure on hospitals to save lives,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said.

In another statement, the government said that “the vaccine pass will be necessary for people over 50 in the public and private sectors to access their workplace from Feb. 15.”

Late last month the government said that from Jan. 10 a vaccination pass would be required to use public transport and access hotels, restaurant terraces and gyms.

One in 10 Londoners Had Coronavirus Last Week

A survey revealed one in 10 Londoners had COVID towards the end of last year, according to The Guardian.

Data released on Wednesday also reveals that in England there are 15,659 COVID patients in hospital, up from 15,044 the day before. Wednesday’s figure marks a 50 per cent rise in a week.

The data comes as it was revealed one in 15 people in England had COVID last week, rising to one in 10 in London.

Infection levels also rose in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the most recent week, with the latest estimates suggesting that about one in 20 in the former two countries had COVID in the week ending Dec. 31, and about one in 25 for the latter. In the week before the figure was about one in 40 for all three countries.

Pre‑Departure PCR Testing to be Scrapped for Returning U.K. Travellers

Boris Johnson said yesterday that pre-departure tests for travellers entering the U.K. would be ditched, as well as PCR tests in the first two days in the country. Instead, arrivals can take cheaper lateral flow tests. The need to quarantine before receiving a negative result will also end.

The tests are seen as a massive deterrent for booking foreign holidays because people fear testing positive while abroad and being unable to return home as planned.

Holiday companies would like to see travel restrictions in the U.K. and Europe eased in time for the February school break.

France currently bans almost all arrivals from Britain.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has banned passenger flights from eight countries, including the U.K. and the U.S., as part of new measures to tackle the spread of Omicron.

Grammy Awards Postponed Because of Omicron Risks

The Grammy Awards were postponed Wednesday weeks before the planned Los Angeles ceremony over what organizers called “too many risks” from the Omicron variant, signalling what could be the start of another year of pandemic upheaval for awards season, reports CTV News.

The attempt at a back-to-normal show had been scheduled for Jan. 31, with a live audience and performances, but no new date is on the books

The move was announced around the same time the Sundance Film Festival canceled its in-person programming, set to begin on Jan. 20, and shifted to an online format.

Judy Gerstel


Jan. 5, 2022

Trudeau, Federal Officials Seek to Reassure Canadians This Morning

The prime minister, federal health minister and finance minister addressed Canadians today to stress that the nation has the tools to get through the Omicron wave and emphasized yet again that getting vaccinated, boostered and working together is vital. “Our support has been unshakeable,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freedland. “Economic support is available to you if you need it.”

“I know that this is a frightening, and difficult time,” she added. She outlined new initiatives including expanded eligibility for support for workers and businesses.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that 140 million additional rapid antigen tests (RATS) would be delivered to provinces and territories this month to be allocated on a per capita basis. “Rapid testing is going to be part of the path through this,” said Trudeau.

Asked about how these tests are best distributed, he said that it’s up to each province to determine.

Ontario Reports Record One-Day Increase in Hospitalization

The number of COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals climbed to 2,081 with 791 patients admitted Tuesday, an increase of 62 per cent and the highest one-day increase ever. Dr. Nathan Stall called the COVID-19 situation in Ontario “critical.”  Provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott on Tuesday described it as “explosive.” An additional 42 patients with COVID-19-related critical illness (CRCI) were admitted to ICUs for a total of 282, reports Critical Care Services Ontario. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 230.

As well, 25 of 626 long-term care homes are in outbreak and 110 of 225 Ontario hospitals are in outbreak. The number of cases reported in Ontario today was 11,582.

Alberta Reports Highest Positivity Rate Since Pandemic Began

Alberta reported 12,965 COVID-19 cases for the past four days on Tuesday.

The province counted 4,570 cases on Friday, 3,323 on Saturday, 2,059 on Sunday and 3,013 on Monday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced.

The positivity rate over that timeframe was between 28 and 36 per cent, “the highest positivity rate we’ve seen with any variant since the pandemic began,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta has more than 30,000 active cases of the disease, Premier Jason Kenney said.

However, provincially imposed limitations to testing capacity means those stats undercount the number of actual COVID-19 cases. Results also do not include those from take-home rapid test kits.

Twelve more deaths linked to COVID-19 were registered since Dec. 28, including a child in the five to nice age group, Hinshaw said.

Kenney expects hospitalizations to increase but added 70 per cent of ICU patients are unvaccinated and none have a booster shot.

France’s Macron Wants to “Piss off” Unvaccinated

France’s daily COVID-19 cases top 270,000 as Omicron sweeps Europe, reports

France on Saturday became the sixth country in the world to report more than 10 million COVID-19 infections since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to official data.

In a fresh effort to combat COVID transmission, French MPs on Monday began debating draft legislation that would require most people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering public spaces. The bill would make it mandatory for people to show proof of being vaccinated — and not just a negative COVID test or proof one has recovered from coronavirus — to access public venues and transport.

Dubbed the “vaccine pass,” the bill’s main measure is aimed at convincing France’s remaining five million unvaccinated people over the age of 12 to get inoculated.

In an interview with Le Parisien published on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to severely limit the access unvaccinated people had to social events, vowing to make life difficult for them.

“As for those who are unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off,” he said. “And so we will continue to do so, until the end. That is the strategy.”

Anti-Vaxxer Tennis Champ Djokovic Drops the Ball Upon Landing in Australia 

Twenty-time grand slam winner Novak Djokovic was attempting to enter Australia on Wednesday with a visa that does not permit medical exemptions for being unvaccinated, The Sydney Herald reported. He had been granted an exemption to play in this month’s Australian Open, outraging Australians, but a visa bungle by his team cast doubt on his entry into Australia, with the Victorian government rejecting a late-night request to support the world No. 1’s visa hours before he was to land in Melbourne at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. Djokovic has refused to divulge his vaccination status.

Israel Reports All-Time High for New COVID-19 Infections

Israel has recorded its highest-ever number of new coronavirus infections — driven by the ultra-contagious Omicron variant — despite restrictions on travel and required quarantines, the government said on Wednesday.

The record of 11,978 cases diagnosed on Tuesday marks the most new infections reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic, according to Times of Israel. The previous record was set Sept. 2 with 11,345 new infections logged during the Delta variant’s wave.

The positive test rate on Tuesday reached 6.6 percent out of the 189,700 tests carried out.

The Health Ministry said the virus transmission number, R, indicating how many people each infected person passes on the virus too, had climbed to 1.94. The transmission rate is based on data from 10 days earlier and values above one show infections are spreading — the higher the number, the faster the rate.

About 63 per cent of people in Israel have been vaccinated twice, while around 46 per cent have received three shots. There was no data on how many have received the recently available fourth dose of the vaccine.

Israel is believed to be the first country to widely roll out a fourth vaccination to people 60 and older, as well as those with compromised immune systems.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday said early results from a study at Sheba Medical Center showed a nearly fivefold increase in antibodies among people with a fourth shot.

Judy Gerstel


Jan. 4, 2022

Ontario Imposes Virtual Schooling, Restrictions, Postponed Surgeries

Ontario children will spend this week and next week in virtual classes instead of going to school. The announcement was made Monday morning, just four days after the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, declared that schools would open for in-class learning on Wednesday. At the same time on Monday, Premier Doug Ford and cabinet members declared that “a tsunami of new cases in the days and weeks ahead,” with omicron cases “rising exponentially across the province,” necessitated additional restrictions. A 21-day ban on indoor restaurant dining begins Wednesday, along with closing of gyms and capacity limits at stores. As well, scheduled surgeries are to be postponed.

Almost 1,000 Staff Members Positive or Isolating at Quebec Hospital

More than 400 staff members at one Quebec hospital tested positive for COVID-19, with around 400 others in isolation for “challenges related to COVID-19,” Martin Beaumont, CEO of CHU de Quebec-Universite Laval, told CTV News on Monday. He said medical appointments and operating room activities will be nearly cut in half starting on Wednesday. He previously said that as many as “10,000 appointments could be rescheduled or converted to telehealth.”

Cases Soar in Manitoba as Rapid Test Distribution Ends

More than 5,400 new COVID-19 infections were reported in Manitoba over a three-day period as the provincial government provided its first pandemic update in 2022 Monday afternoon.

According to the province’s pandemic dashboard, there was an increase of 5,411 new infections since the last COVID-19 update Friday, when 1,494 cases were reported.

Meanwhile, the province has stopped distributing COVID-19 rapid tests to businesses amid soaring demand and a probe into taxpayer-funded tests being used for private gatherings, reports the Winnipeg Free Press.

Business owners posted on social media about using taxpayer-funded rapid tests to host safer Christmas gatherings.

N.L. chief medical officer: “Most people will get Omicron” 

Newfoundland and Labrador officials are imposing stricter province wide public health measures as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 strains health-care capacity and drives skyrocketing case counts, reports the Globe and Mail.

The province’s chief medical officer of health told reporters on Monday that active case counts have jumped from 30 to nearly 3,000 in about two weeks.

“Identifying every case and contact, that is no longer possible, and our objective right now is to slow the inevitable spread,” said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.

“The reality of this virus is that it is so infectious, most people will acquire it.”

Judy Gerstel


Dec. 21, 2021

Canada foreign minister tests positive for COVID-19, Quebec shuts bars, gyms

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday a rapid COVID-19 test that she had taken proved to be positive, adding she was working in isolation until the result could be confirmed.

Joly, 42, was named foreign minister in October and would be one of the most prominent domestic politicians to come down with the coronavirus, which is spreading rapidly as the Omicron variant picks up speed.

“I have taken a rapid test and tested positive for COVID-19. Following public health guidelines, I am in isolation and will continue my work virtually, as I have been for a number of days, until I get the results of my PCR test,” she tweeted.

Joly did not give further details. Her chief spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday a spike in cases of Omicron was “scary,” while a top medical official suggested the healthcare system could soon be swamped.

Earlier in the day, Quebec, Canada’s second-most-populous province, ordered bars, gyms and casinos shut on Monday and directed people to work only from home.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said the province had a record 4,500 new cases of the coronavirus a day and predicted worse was yet to come.

He urged Quebecers to cut down personal contacts with the approach of Christmas and New Year’s Day. The new measures were due to take effect at 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Monday.

“The situation is critical. … Right now we are waging a war against the virus,” Dube told a virtual briefing.

“We will have new projections from our specialists this evening and let’s be honest, they probably won’t be encouraging,” he said.

Dube said most schools would shut down immediately until Jan. 10, while restaurants would open only from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and all sporting events would be played without spectators.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)



Dec. 20, 2021

Moderna Booster Shown to Increase Protection Against Omicron

As booster rollouts ramp up across the country, booking opened up to Ontarians 18 and older this morning, there’s good news from Moderna — one of two boosters approved by Health Canada.

The drug maker reported Monday that preliminary findings show that by day 29 after its booster shot — half the dose used for the first two-shot regimen — increased levels of neutralizing antibodies against Omicron about 37 times more than pre-boost levels.

“What we showed is when you boost, you get a good brisk increase in antibody levels and they would be correlated with protection,” said Moderna Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton.

Findings released last week by researchers from Moderna, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Duke University showed that two doses of Moderna’s vaccine had significantly reduced neutralization activity against Omicron.

The results reported today are similar to those released by Pfizer-BioNTech earlier this month, where boosting was found to increase neutralizing antibodies 25-fold compared with two doses against Omicron.

Moderna said today that it will continue working on an Omicron-specific vaccine that it expects to have in clinical trial by early 2022.

Half of Ontarians “Playing it Cautious” This Holiday Season

A survey done for the Toronto Star by Forum Research on Dec. 14 — which seems like a long, ignorance-was-maybe-still-bliss time ago now — showed that 51 per cent of Ontario residents will be celebrating Christmas with only their immediate household again this year.

“Many people are playing it cautious … and kind of limiting social gatherings, both within their own home and limiting international vacations,” William Schatten, vice-president of research and analytics at Forum Research, told the Star.

However, another 41 per cent of Ontarians said they will celebrate with their household and extended family, while seven per cent said they will celebrate uninhibitedly, without restrictions.

This, of course, was before the province reintroduced restrictions on private indoor gatherings — to a maximum of 10 people — and once again put capacity limits — 50 per cent — for public settings, on Friday.

Capacity limits or no, an NHL game is off the table for Leafs fans this holiday season, with the team suspending operations until Dec. 26 — they had seven players and two coaches in COVID protocol as of Sunday, while the league announced yesterday that remaining cross-border games in Canada, up to the start of the holiday break on Dec. 23, have been postponed amid a “crush of COVID-19 cases.”

The Forum survey also showed that where it concerns a trip, only about 16 per cent of respondents plan to travel internationally in the next three months, while close to 40 per cent said they will travel within six to 12 months from now. It’s worth noting that these responses came a day before the federal government, on Wednesday, once again issued an advisory against non-essential travel abroad.

“It’s very, very few people (travelling). For the winter holidays, looks like everyone’s going to hunker down again,” said Schatten.

Domestically, if Newfoundland and Labrador was on their travel agenda this holiday season the trip will require a five-day isolation as of Tuesday,, which may sway many to cancel those plans as well.

On Sunday, N.L. became the first province or territory in Canada to respond with such requirements for all travellers — domestic or foreign — amid a new surge of COVID-19. And as the CBC reports, rules and testing will now be a part of travel to most other parts of the country as well.

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 17, 2021

Canadiens Close Doors to Fans Two Hours Before Game, Quebec Ramps up Restrictions as Case Counts Surge

As evidence of just how fast things are changing amid a new surge fuelled by the Omicron variant, less than two hours before doors were to open at the Bell Centre last night the Montreal Canadiens announced the game against Philadelphia would be played without fans in the stands.

“We have accepted this request to ensure the health and safety of our supporters and communities,” the team said in a news release late Thursday afternoon.

The team also announced its American Hockey League affiliate, the Laval Rocket, would play its home game against the Providence Bruins without spectators Friday.

“I don’t have good news,” said Quebec Premier Francois Legault at a press conference Thursday evening, to address rising case counts.

He announced renewed measures to take effect Monday that include:

  • Stores will have reduced capacity, allowing one client per 20 square metres
  • Places of worship will reduce capacity by 50 per cent, with a cap of 250 people. Vaccine passports will be required and people must be seated
  • Funerals and weddings can have up to 25 people without requiring vaccine passports, but up to 250 people with passports
  • For public activities, capacity is lowered by 50 per cent to a maximum of 250 people. People must stay seated and wear a mask at all times
  • Bars and restaurants must cut capacity by 50 per cent, spacing tables as much as possible, with a maximum of 10 people at tables. Dancing and karaoke are banned once again
  • Cinemas and theatres will also have capacity reduced by 50 per cent
  • All tournaments and competitions suspended as of Monday, with reduced capacity of gyms and other indoor training facilities

As well, the capacity limit for indoor private gatherings will not be increased from 10 to 20, as was planned for the holidays.

“Even 10 people, we have to be extremely cautious and do it only if absolutely necessary,” said Legault.

The Habs would end up defeating the Flyers 3-2 last night at an empty Bell Centre. But this morning, the NHL announced that Saturday night’s game between Montreal and the Boston Bruins — who has added players to COVID protocol for each of the past three days — has been postponed, with a makeup game date yet to be determined.

The Canadiens will play on the road, against the New York Islanders on Monday, and were assured by provincial health officials Thursday that games will return to partial capacity at the Bell Centre in January.

“We hope that this rigour and this collective effort will ensure that we can come together again in the near future in 2022,” read the team’s release yesterday.

Quebec reported 3,768 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, setting a new record, previously marked on Jan. 9, 2020, with 3,127 cases. The province also announced seven new deaths.

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 16, 2021

Governments Respond to Omicron

As COVID cases continue to rise and the Omicron strain continues to gain across the country, and the globe, the federal government yesterday reinstated its recommendation against non-essential international travel.

And, expecting the next few weeks to be the busiest domestic travel period since the the beginning of the pandemic, Newfoundland and Labrador yesterday introduced new domestic travel measures. The province, which also reported its first case of Omicron Wednesday — a travel-related case — announced that all travellers will be given a rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival, and given an additional test to continue screening for the virus.

University students returning to the province for the holidays will face stricter requirements, needing to complete a PCR test, or having to self-isolate for 14 days.

“Choosing to go this route … it’s the balance between reducing the risk and not reducing mobility as much as possible,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, adding that tests could be handed out by the end of this week.

Meanwhile in Ontario, where the variant is now spreading in the community, capacity limits of 50 per cent are being reintroduced at indoor sports and entertainment venues, starting Saturday, and the province launched its “holiday blitz” rapid-testing program yesterday, with two million kits available for free at malls, holiday markets, public libraries, transit hubs and liquor stores.

The province is also expanding eligibility for vaccine boosters to anyone 18 and older ahead of schedule, from Jan. 3 to this coming Monday, and has shortened the timing between second and third doses from six to three months.

“It’s all hands on deck and it starts with booster shots. Nothing matters more than getting these third shots into arms,” Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that “everything is on the table” if case numbers continue to rise.

On Thursday, the province’s scientific advisory panel called for strict public health measures to combat a growing surge of the Omicron variant that could see ICU admissions reach “unsustainable levels” early next year. Modelling released today suggests that without “circuit breaker” restrictions to reduce social contacts by about 50 per cent, booster shots alone will likely not be enough to stop daily cases reaching between 6,000 and more than 10,000 per day by the end of 2021.

“This will likely be the hardest wave of the pandemic. There is still some uncertainty, but there is an undeniable urgency,” said Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the advisory group. “Waiting to take action means waiting until it is too late to take action.”

In Quebec, Premier François Legault says he’s using hospitalization numbers to inform his decision on whether to allow private gatherings of up to 20 vaccinated individuals as of Dec. 23, as planned. “We have to continue to study the situation,” he said Wednesday. “We can’t rule anything out.”

The province is seeing its highest daily case counts since January, reporting 2,736 new infections Thursday — the third-straight day of 2,000-plus new cases.

In Alberta, gathering limits have been eased ahead of the holidays.

While the province is not increasing the number of people who can gather indoors — that remains capped to a maximum of 10 adults, with no limit on the number of children — the limit to the number of households that can gather indoors has been lifted. And, indoor gatherings can now include unvaccinated individuals.

“We believe this is a reasonable, very modest change,” said Premier Jason Kenney, after announcing the changes Wednesday.

The premier went on to say that the province “would not be taking this measure if we thought it represented any significant additional risk.”

Alberta has the fourth-lowest vaccination rate in the country, with 71.3 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, ahead of Northwest Territories (70.5), Saskatchewan (70.4) and Nunavut (61.2). Newfoundland and Labrador, incidentally, has Canada’s highest rate of fully vaccinated residents, with 84.8 per cent of its population having received two doses.

How Much More Infectious Is Omicron?

The Omicron variant may be multiplying 70 times quicker in our lungs than other strains, suggests research from Hong Kong.

In a lab-based study, researchers from the LKS Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong found that, 24 hours after infection, Omicron multiplies 70 times faster than either the Delta variant or the original SARS-CoV-2 virus within tissue samples of human bronchi — the two large tubes that carry air from your windpipe to your lungs.

But, It’s not the bronchi, rather the lungs where the virus causes potentially life-threatening COVID-19 complications, such as pneumonia. So, the team suspects the strain may result in less severe illness if it replicates slower in the lungs than the bronchi. And, as CBC News reports, that would follow real-world evidence suggesting Omicron causes less severe illness.

However, the study’s lead researcher cautions that the strain could still prove to be more dangerous.

“It is also noted that, by infecting many more people, a very infectious virus may cause more severe disease and death even though the virus itself may be less pathogenic,” Dr. Michael Chan Chi-wai, an associate professor of the university’s school of public health, said in a statement Wednesday.

“Therefore, taken together with our recent studies showing that the Omicron variant can partially escape immunity from vaccines and past infection, the overall threat from [the] Omicron variant is likely to be very significant.”

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 15, 2021

Federal Government Urges Canadians Not to Leave Country

The federal government has announced a new travel advisory against non-essential foreign travel in response to the Omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos made the announcement at a joint press conference Wednesday afternoon with other ministers and public health officials, warning Canadians planning to travel outside of the country “this is not the time to do so.”

Ahead of the press conference, Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be vigilant and make “careful decisions about Christmas.”

“Canadians have been attentive for months and months. We’ve seen that people know how to do the right thing. They’re going to have to be vigilant and make careful decisions about Christmas,” Trudeau said in French before the start of a Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday, Canada’s chief public health officer said the variant has “great spread potential” and that Canada was likely days or weeks behind the U.K., where caseloads are doubling every two or three days as a result of the new strain.

Last week, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos warned Canadians planning to travel abroad of the risk involved as well as the hassle they’ll likely experience in their return home.

“Canadians who are thinking of travelling abroad need to be warned that the situation abroad is both risky and unstable. They should also know that returning to Canada will likely involve delays and hassle,” Duclos said on Friday.

Sources told CBC News that stronger measures were discussed during a meeting between Trudeau and the premiers. Considerations included a ban on all non-essential foreign travel to Canada — including from the U.S. — as well as more stringent quarantine and testing measures for travellers returning to Canada.

Strict Measures for Ontario Nursing Homes on the Way

As the COVID-19 Omicron variant spreads throughout the country, Ontario’s Ministry of Longterm Care is implementing protective measures for its most vulnerable populations in long-term care.

The temporary measures, which go into affect on Dec. 17, will prohibit unvaccinated visitors and caregivers from entering long-term care facilities, limiting them to outdoor visits. While outdoors they will still be required to mask and maintain social distance.

The protocol will also apply to children who are not eligible for the vaccine and those between the ages of five and 12 who have only had access to a single dose.

According to the province, 95 per cent of the 45,000 caregivers in the country have been fully vaccinated, leaving 2,000 yet to get the two shots.

The ministry has set a deadline of Dec. 20 for visitors and caregivers to receive their first dose, and Feb. 21 for full immunization. Those who have received one dose will only be given access to resident rooms.

The ministry says unvaccinated visitors and caregivers would only be allowed access to long-term care facilities under exceptional circumstances, including visiting a loved one in palliative care.

As of Dec. 17, the guidelines will also require fully vaccinated staff, students, volunteers and caregivers to be tested twice per week. Visitors and support workers, who were previously only subjected to random testing, will now need a negative test to enter long-term care homes.

Daytime, off-site visits will still be permitted for fully-vaccinated residents.

New restrictions will also see limits placed on holiday visits and outings. Residents will be allowed a maximum of two visitors or caregivers at a time and families will no longer be allowed to check residents out for overnight social visits.

Residents in the province’s 626 long-term care homes will see a change in their usual social activities as well, with the ministry encouraging smaller gatherings and cohorting for higher-risk group activities, including dining.

According to CTV News, officials have stressed that residents would not be forced to remain in their rooms, a concerning protocol during earlier waves of the virus.

Ford Expected to Announce Comprehensive Booster Rollout

Ontario is expanding its booster shot eligibility to all residents 18 and older as of Monday.


The province, which had already rolled out booster shots to a select group and those over 50, was initially expected to extend eligibility for a third dose on Jan. 4, but with the more contagious Omicron strain threatening another wave, the timeline for extending eligibility was moved up.

The Province is also shortening the required interval between the second and third dose from six months down to just three. They also said that walk-in booster shots would be on offer at pharmacies.

Ontario’s Science Advisory Table is estimating that around 32 per cent of all new cases in Ontario involve the Omicron variant. They also say it has a reproductive rate of 4.29, which suggests that every 100 cases will result in 429 secondary infections.

On Monday, Dr. Peter Jüni, the head of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table, told CP24 that because immunity wanes around 12 weeks after the second dose, Ontario would need to launch an aggressive booster campaign.

“This is a three-dose vaccine. Everybody needs to get vaccinated and we need to rush as fast as we can,” Jüni said.

“We need to get to at least 200,000 doses per day.”

—Andrew Wright


Dec. 14, 2021

Good and Bad News for Pfizer

A South African study released Tuesday suggests that Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is less effective in preventing hospitalization from the Omicron variant.

Between Nov. 15 and Dec. 7, a real-world analysis of 211,000 COVID cases showed that people who’d received two doses of the shot had a 70 per cent chance of avoiding hospitalization, down from 93 per cent during the previous Delta-driven wave.

The study also showed that protection against infection dipped to 33 per cent from 80 per cent before Omicron was identified in the country. As Reuters reports, the researchers noted, however, that the findings are still preliminary

In positive news, in the final results of a study involving 2,246 high-risk patients, Pfizer’s pill to treat COVID-19, paxlovid, maintained the 89 per cent efficacy first reported in November, at preventing hospitalization and death, the company said Tuesday.

The release also noted that, “relative risk reduction was 94 per cent in patients 65 years of age or older, one of the populations at highest risk for hospitalization or death.”

“That number was a great number,” Andrew Pekosz, vice-chair of microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Stat News when asked about the overall results.

“The fact that it was conserved in that final analysis really points to this being a really important weapon in our arsenal to fight Covid-19 particularly as we see more variants that are going to be chipping at that efficacy number.”

Separate lab tests showed the drug retains its potency against the Omicron variant, the company also announced.

Omicron Cases Expected to “Rapidly Escalate” Before Holidays

Canada’s chief public health officer said Monday that Omicron represents the risk of “great spread potential” and she expects COVID-19 cases to “rapidly escalate” in the coming days and weeks.

“We know how to work together to flatten that curve and we need to do that pretty rapidly, starting now,” Dr. Theresa Tam said during a press briefing yesterday. “As with other waves of the pandemic, rapid action and reducing contact [are] key to preventing that very sharp peak.”

In New Brunswick, where the first case of the variant was confirmed yesterday, Christmas break for kids in Kindergarten to Grade 6 will start a week sooner, with Premier Blaine Higgs saying yesterday that 50 to 60 per cent of new cases are related to those schools.

Other measures announced by the province include limiting household contacts to a maximum of the same 20 people and reducing capacity at movie theatres, sporting events and casinos to 50 per cent. But Higgs warned that restrictions could further tighten in the coming days.

“We’re going to try to manage it in increments,” he said. “But we very well, in the next few days, could go to a full Level 2, or beyond.”

Nova Scotia is also recommending residents limit their contacts, putting in place capacity limits of 20 people max for indoor and outdoor gatherings.

The province reported 114 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, and confirmed that 40 previously reported cases were found to be cases of the Omicron variant.

“The reality is cases across the country are up and we hoped to be immune here in Nova Scotia but we’re not,” Premier Tim Houston said during a briefing on Monday.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, scheduled a COVID-19 update for Tuesday afternoon, in addition to his regularly scheduled Thursday briefing. As CBC reports, Public Health Ontario this morning reported a 6.6 per cent positivity rate on 33,400 tests for the virus — the highest since May 18, during the third wave.

Moore has already asked that Ontarians who can work from home should once again do so. While parts of the province experiencing a surge in cases have reintroduced capacity and physical distancing restrictions for public settings.

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 13, 2021

British Study Says Two Doses Substantially Less Effective Against Omicron

A study released Monday by the University of Oxford showed that two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with AstraZeneca or two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s both experienced “a substantial fall” in protection when faced with the Omicron variant.

The researchers tested antibody response after introducing the Omicron variant in blood samples from people who’d had their second dose of either vaccine 28 days before. The study noted that some vaccine recipients “failed to neutralize [the virus] at all.”

“This will likely lead to increased breakthrough infections in previously infected or double vaccinated individuals, which could drive a further wave of infection, although there is currently no evidence of increased potential to cause severe disease, hospitalization or death,” the study’s authors said.

The findings should “press home the message that those who are offered booster vaccination should take it,” said Gavin Screaton, head of Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division and lead author of the paper.

Long cues formed at vaccination clinics across England Monday, with residents lining up for booster shots after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Sunday that everyone 18 and older would be offered a third dose by the end of the month.

“We are now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, Omicron,” said Johnson in a televised address yesterday, adding that boosters would “reinforce our wall of vaccine protection” against an anticipated “tidal wave of Omicron.”

The country reported its first death from the variant on Sunday, and health authorities say cases of Omicron are doubling every two to three days.

Ontario Vaccine Booking Site Crashes as Boosters Open to 50-Plus 

As the Toronto Star reports, on the first day that Ontarians aged 50 and older can schedule a COVID-19 booster the province’s online booking portal crashed shortly after opening at 8 a.m., displaying a message for users to try again later.

People 50-plus who have received a second dose at least six months before are now eligible for a third shot, and can book doses online or by phone, through local public health units using their own booking systems and at some pharmacies and primary care clinics.

On Friday, Ontario announced it would extend eligibility to everyone 18 and older on Jan. 4 but health officials say that could be expedited if capacity allows.

With case counts in the province seeing a six-month high, officials are also once again asking that people who can work from home do so.

“Just as I am asking individuals to continue practicing public health measures and get vaccinated, I’m also asking businesses and organizations to remain diligent and vigilant,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Friday. “We are asking that employers ask their employees to work from home whenever possible.”

Ontario marked its fifth-straight day of 1,000-plus cases Monday, reporting 1,536 new infections.

Today also marks the deadline for long-term care workers in the province to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19; staff, students and volunteers can no longer enter long-term care homes without proof of being full vaccinated.

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 10, 2021

What Doctors Are Calling for, and What Is Being Done About Rising Cases

Doctors across the country are concerned about a winter surge of COVID-19, as Canada’s most populated provinces see their highest daily case counts in months.

Ontario reported 1,453 new infections today, the most since May 23 and 41 per cent more than last Friday. In response to rising cases, the province is reported to be halting a plan to cease its vaccine certificate program in January, and will announce stronger proof-of-vaccination measurers later today.

Meanwhile, Quebec, which reported 2,225 new cases of COVID-19 Friday — the first time its logged more than 2,000 new infections in 24 hours since Jan. 16 — announced yesterday that, in regions where the epidemiological situation is “more worrisome,” all preschool and elementary school students will be receiving rapid COVID-19 tests for at-home screening.

On Friday, new modelling released by the Public Health Agency of Canada suggests the number of COVID-19 cases could increase from the current level, of over 3,300 cases a day, to between 6,000 and 7,000 a day in January, if the current rate of transmission continues. Variants, however, could push that number closer to 12,000 a day.

“What we really need to do is focus on these next few weeks,” Dr. Srinivas Murthy, a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia whose research focuses on pandemic preparedness and response, told the Globe and Mail.

“I’m nervous that we’re going to take shortcuts and really focus on just the usual stuff, making sure the economy hums along.”

He says governments should focus on access to rapid COVID-19 tests as well as paid sick leave, especially in marginalized communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

“I think it is inevitable that we are going to see surges in cases,” Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious-diseases physician at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, told the Globe.

“We need to be looking at individual pockets of communities that have lower uptake of vaccines. Enough of these pockets will result in hospitals being inundated and overwhelmed.”

He also says that having everybody receive a booster shot would help prevent transmission.

Currently the guidelines from Canada’s National Committee on Immunization is for a third COVID-19 shot for adults aged 50 and over, with the group saying provinces may also want to offer boosters to people 18 to 49, depending on local and individual circumstances.

South of the border, on Thursday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration extended its authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use as a booster in 16 and 17-year-olds, with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention following with its recommendation of the shots for that age group as well.

Relaxing measures and more time spent indoors are likely both factors contributing to increased virus spread, says Montreal infectious diseases physician Dr. Matthew Oughton. And as Quebec plans to ease its capacity limit, from 10 to 20, for indoor gatherings of fully vaccinated people in time for the holidays, he worries about the outcome of a last-minute change of policy.

“I’m wondering, if these kinds of numbers continue, whether the government will have to rethink that, and hit the brakes,” said Oughton in an interview with CBC News.

“And that kind of reversal, we’ve seen happen several times, comes at a bit of cost — in terms of people not wanting to pay so much attention to the messaging when there are these sorts of back and forth.”

Canada’s top doctor said Friday that Canadians can safely gather over the holidays, if they restrict their guest list to vaccinated friends and family.

“As we look to the holidays and weeks ahead, caution is still warranted. But as you consider the risks for you and yours, we can be thankful we’re better protected with vaccines,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

“Heeding public health advice, completing our primary series of COVID-19 vaccines, getting a booster dose when eligible and keeping up with basic personal precautions — like wearing a well-fitted, well-constructed face mask, avoiding crowding, and improving ventilation and other layers of protection — continue to be our best and safest way forward.”

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 9, 2021

Food Prices Expected to Have Record Increase in 2022

Paying even more at the grocery store is one thing Canadians can bank on in 2022, according to an annual report released today.

Published by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph, Canada’s Food Price Guide predicts a record increase in 2022, with researchers laying part of the blame on pandemic-fulled costs — for things like sanitation and PPE — as well as higher transportation costs.

The report forecasted higher prices for 2021 as well, but chief researcher Sylvain Charlebois says food price inflation is on track to be higher again in the coming year — between five and seven per cent higher, or an extra $966 for a typical family grocery bill.

“It’s the highest increase that we’re predicting in 12 years, both in terms of dollars and percentage,” said Charlebois, a professor studying food distribution and security at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Dairy and restaurant food are expected to have the highest gain, a six to eight per cent increase; bakery items and vegetable prices are expected to increase by between five and seven per cent; fruit by between three and five per cent; while meat — which pushed food inflation last year — and seafood are expected to have little to no increase in 2022.

“It’s important for consumers to understand that food prices have been going up for some time, and there’s no turning back,” said Charlebois. “Our relationship with food is changing, and so will our food budgets. Showing up at the grocery store knowing what you should be paying will help.”

As CBC reports, the Canadian Dairy Commission was already warning last month about price hikes, with a report to back up a request of the government to allow an 8.4 per cent increase in retail milk prices to account for added production costs, including on feed, fertilizer and transportation.

The Food Price Guide report also predicts increased demand on food banks if incomes don’t rise to meet the increased price of food and other basic needs.

And the report authors warn that, “Disproportionately higher food prices will have a more severe impact on women, Indigenous populations, people of colour and other vulnerable populations.”

When Will the Pandemic End? WHO and Experts Weighs In

A few months after COVID-19 had been identified, the virus had spread around the globe and the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic in March 2020. But when will it end, we’ve all been asking, with fingers crossed, as we mark the months — and soon to be two years since.

As the Associated Press reports, it will likely be when the WHO decides the coronavirus is no longer an “emergency of international concern,” as it was deemed before being declared a pandemic. A WHO committee of experts has been meeting every three months to reassess the virus’ status.

“It’s somewhat a subjective judgment because it’s not just about the number of cases. It’s about severity and it’s about impact,” says Dr. Michael Ryan, emergencies chief for the WHO.

statement from the global health agency didn’t provide much more clarity.

“At this moment, WHO considers that COVID-19 continues to be a pandemic. If we are able to bring and keep the spread of the disease down and avoid the large number of deaths we are currently witnessing, we can move beyond the pandemic stage.”

“I’d guess the pandemic would last for a total of two to four years, and then we would start seeing things settle down, depending on what country you live in. But this isn’t influenza,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, told the Canadian Press.

“So, I mean there’s some lessons that I think we can learn from other pandemics, but we also have to recognize that this is not the flu and it might behave a little bit differently.”

However, he says it’s “important for people to know that we won’t have to live with various public health restrictions forever,” but that it’s hard to predict anything beyond two months at this point.

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 8, 2021

Booster Dose of Pfizer Increases Protection Against Omicron

A third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine neutralizes the Omicron variant, the drug makers said Wednesday.

Preliminary lab results showed that a booster increased neutralizing antibodies 25-fold compared with two doses against Omicron. But, a two-dose regimen may still prove effective in preventing severe illness from COVID-19, they said in a statement, because 80 per cent of the spike protein parts the vaccine targets are the same in the Omicron mutation.

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The companies also said they are working on a variant-specific vaccine for Omicron and expect to have it available by March 2022.

Pfizer’s vaccine is one of two, along with Moderna’s, that Health Canada has approved for use as a booster. On Friday, Canada’s National Committee on Immunization revised its guidelines to recommend a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for anyone aged 50-plus.

Global Health Security Index: World Vulnerable to Future Health Emergencies

Researchers compiling this year’s Global Health Security Index found every country fall short in preparedness against future health emergencies, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The assessment of each country’s ability to prevent, detect and respond to health emergencies, done by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit global security group, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, resulted in an average of 38.9 out of 100, with co country scoring above 75.9.

The report’s authors said that although many were able to quickly respond to COVID-19, “all countries remain dangerously unprepared for meeting future epidemic and pandemic threats.”

They also noted that although some countries had a foundation for preparedness that “did not necessarily translate into successfully protecting against the consequences of the disease because they failed to also adequately address high levels of public distrust in government.”

Their recommendations include:

  • countries should allocate funds for health security in their national budgets
  • international organizations should identify countries most in need of additional support
  • the private sector should look for ways to partner with governments
  • philanthropies should develop new financing mechanisms, such as a global health security matching fund, to prioritize resources

Canada ranked four out of 195 countries on the index, scoring 69.8 overall — an increase of 2.2 over 2019 — with its lowest showing (49.2) in the category of ‘Respond’ and its highest result (81.8) in the category of ‘Risk.’

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 7, 2021

Quebec Vaccine Candidate Could be Canada’s 5th, if Approved

Canada’s next approved COVID-19 vaccine could be a homegrown one.

Results from a Phase 3 trial of a shot from Quebec biopharmaceutical company Medicago showed an efficacy rate of 75 per cent against the Delta variant, the company announced Tuesday morning, with a little less overall efficacy, 71 per cent, against all strains studied — Omicron had not yet been identified during the trial this past March.

The two-dose vaccine use’s Medicago’s plant-derived, virus-like particles — which resemble the coronavirus but don’t contain its genetic material — as well as an adjuvant — from American pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline — to help boost the immune system’s response to it.

The trial involved 24,000 people across Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, and included healthy adults 18 to 64, elderly subjects aged 65 and over and adults with comorbidities.

In today’s release, the company said that the vaccine candidate was “well-tolerated, with no related serious adverse events reported in the vaccine group of the trial.”

An application to Health Canada is said to be imminent. If approved, it would be the first ever plant-based COVID vaccine using virus-like technology to be given the green light.

“I am pleased to see our vaccine candidate moving forward and bringing to the world the first plant-based vaccine against COVID-19, diversifying the pool of vaccines available to help improve public health and protect more people,” said Yosuke Kimura, chief scientific officer at Medicago.

Omicron Causes More Reinfections, South Africa Study Shows

A study from South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first identified, shows that the strain can cause reinfection among people who have already had COVID-19.

South Africa was hard-hit by two previous waves of the coronavirus, fuelled by the Beta and Delta variants, but during which there weren’t a great deal of reinfections. But Omicron, the study showed, has accounted for 35,670 reinfections in 2.8 million positive tests from March 2020 to Nov. 27, 2021.

The study’s authors summarized that “the Omicron variant is associated with substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection. In contrast, there is no population-wide epidemiological evidence of immune escape associated with the Beta or Delta variants,” while noting that “questions remain regarding whether Omicron is also able to evade vaccine-induced immunity.”

On the bright side, one of South Africa’s biggest hospital groups, Mediclinic International Ltd., said Tuesday that although it’s seeing a surge of patients with COVID-19, including more under the age of 12 and asymptomatic patients coming in with other ailments, “only a few require admission for further care.”

The group reported that 25 per cent of COVID-19 patients admitted are vaccinated, as are 16 per cent of COVID patients in ICU.

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 6, 2021

J&J Booster Shows Slower, But More Sustained, Immune Response

In a small study of 65 volunteers who initially got two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, American researchers say they found that using the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine as a booster produced a slower, but more sustained, antibody response against the original strain of the virus, as well as the Delta and Beta variants.

“Both vaccines boost antibody titers very well. At week four, neutralizing antibody levels were comparable,” lead researcher Dr. Dan Barouch of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School told CNN Sunday.

But after four weeks, antibody levels began to drop off in people who got the Pfizer booster, while they continued to increase in people who got the J&J shot. J&J’s vaccine also increased the numbers of immune cells called CD8 T cells.

Barouch says the findings could be helpful in fighting new variants.

“Now we don’t know that for sure yet about Omicron, but as I’m sure you know, there’s been a lot of concern or speculation that it might result in at least some degree, maybe a substantial degree, of escape from vaccine induced antibodies,” he said.

“For a boost, you do want a boost to increase both antibody and T-cell responses.”

On Friday, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization updated its guidance on boosters, now recommending shots for adults aged 50 and over, anyone who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Janssen vaccine as their primary series, front-line health-care workers and people living in or from Indigenous communities.

NACI also said in a report that adults aged 18 to 49 “may be offered” a booster dose, though the strongest recommendations are for the other priority populations.

So far Health Canada has approved the use of only two boosters, Pfizer and Moderna.

Although the agency approved the one-dose J&J shot in March, only last month did the government confirm that it would begin importing doses for use as a primary shot only.

British Vaccinologist Says Next Pandemic “Could be Worse”

A scientist behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will deliver this year’s Richard Dimbleby lecture, named after the BBC’s first war correspondent, Monday evening. Excerpts released in advance warn that the next pandemic may be worse.

“This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods,’’ read Sarah Gilbert’s lecture. “The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.”

Gilbert is a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, and has been recognized as Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to science and public health.

She says we cannot squander advances made in the past 20 months, calling on governments to investment in “people, research, manufacturing and institutions to defend against pandemics,” as they would in military and diplomatic efforts to defend against war.

“We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness,’’ she said.

“The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost.”

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 3, 2021

WHO: Extra Shot May Be All That’s Needed Against Omicron

The World Health Organization doesn’t yet know if the Omicron variant causes more severe illness, but it does appear “highly transmissible” said the agency’s chief scientist Friday, citing data from South Africa showing the number of cases doubling daily.

“It is possible that it could become (the) dominant variant,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan told Reuters.

A pediatrician and clinical scientist known for her research on tuberculosis and HIV, Swaminathan said we need to be “prepared and cautious,” but “not panic” over the discovery of the new variant.

She says the WHO’s monitoring shows that Omicron cases so far reported have been associated with less severe symptoms or not symptoms at all.

“The fact that they’re not getting sick … that means the vaccines are still providing protection and we would hope that they would continue to provide protection,” she said, cautioning against the need for reformulated vaccines at this point.

“It’s possible that the vaccines will work. It’s possible that you may need initially an extra dose to boost immune response.”

Germany Locking Down Unvaxxed, Considering Mandatory Vaccination 

Germans unvaccinated against COVID-19 will be banned from all but essential businesses, the country announced Thursday, in an effort to end a fourth wave of the virus.

“We have understood that the situation is very serious and that we want to take further measures in addition to those already taken,” Angela Merkel said at her last news conference as chancellor yesterday.

“The fourth wave must be broken and this has not yet been achieved.”

German leaders are also considering mandatory vaccination for all eligible citizens, like neighbouring Austria, which could take effect in February. And in an effort to encourage boosters, Merkel also announced Thursday that people will lose their vaccination status nine months after getting their last shot.

According to tracking by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 68.4 per cent of Germany’s population is fully vaccinated. That compares to a rate of 70.7 per cent for Europe’s total population.

Earlier this week EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was time to “potentially think about mandatory vaccination” within the bloc.

“Two or three years ago, I would never have thought to witness what we see right now, that we have this horrible pandemic, we have the vaccines, the life-saving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere,” von der Leyen said Wednesday.

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 2, 2021

Eligibility for Booster to be Expanded in Alberta, Ontario

Alberta and Ontario plan to extend eligibility of COVID-19 vaccine boosters, reports the Globe and Mail.

In Alberta, a third dose is expected to be offered to everyone 18 and older, but the province will start by opening up eligibility on Monday to those 60-plus, who are greater risk of severe outcomes despite vaccination said the province’s chief medical officer of health yesterday.

“Because of this, and given the fact that increased transmission risk in the winter months is lining up with some waning vaccine effectiveness against infection over time, the current evidence supports expanding booster doses to add an additional layer of protection,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

And Ontario announced Thursday that people aged 50 and older will be eligible for a third COVID-19 vaccine shot starting December 13.

As the Globe also reports, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization is preparing to announce new guidance as early as Friday, recommending a third shot for everyone aged 50 and older.

NACI currently recommends booster shots for high-risk groups, including people 70 and older, people living in congregate settings as well as immunocompromised individuals.

U.S. Changes Testing Requirement for Air Travellers, Including Canadians

The U.S. has included Canadians in its heightened COVID testing requirement for air travellers. As reported, by next week all foreign passengers will be required to provide a negative test within 24 hours of arrival, versus 72 hours.

It’s not yet known if the measure will extend to visitors entering the country at land borders.

Canada has exempted Americans from its new point-of-arrival testing for air travellers, introduced Tuesday, but still requires that they provide a negative COVID test taken 72 hours in advance of arrival.

The move is part of U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Yesterday, the country confirmed its first case of the strain. A California man who’d recently returned from South Africa and said to be having “mild symptoms” but improving after testing positive on Nov. 29. Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that the man is fully vaccinated, but has yet to receive a booster.

“I think what’s happening now is another example of why it’s important for people to get vaccinated. But also boosting. Boosting is very important,” said Fauci.

Expanding access to booster shots is planned this winter, in hopes to convince nearly 100 million eligible Americans to get one. Biden said Wednesday that his 10-point strategy would fight the virus “not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.”

—Tara Losinski


Dec. 1, 2021

Older, Unvaxxed Should Postpone Travel, Says WHO

The World Health Organization advised Tuesday that people 60 years of age and older who are not vaccinated or have not previously had COVID-19 avoid travel “to areas with community transmission,” citing the spread of the Omicron variant.

The agency has been critical of travel restrictions, of which more than 50 countries including Canada have implemented against southern Africa, saying in a statement that, “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

Instead, the WHO says those who travel — and to where — should be targeted.

“Persons who have not been fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities that present increased risk of severe COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes), should be advised to postpone travel to areas with community transmission.”

That scratches a lot of places off the list. with more than 175 nations reporting new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, amounting to another 596,000 infections globally.

The WHO’s statement addressed all travellers as well, saying they “should be reminded to remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, to get vaccinated when it is their turn and to adhere to public health and social measures at all times and regardless of vaccination status, including by using masks appropriately, respecting physical distancing, following good respiratory etiquette and avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated spaces.”

Although WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was understandable for countries to act to protect their citizens “against a variant we don’t yet fully understand,” he called for a “calm, co-ordinated and coherent” response, urging leaders to “take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures.”

Canada Imposes More Travel Restrictions in Light of Omicron

Canada added three more countries — Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt — to its Omicron-prompted travel restrictions Tuesday.

Foreign nationals who have been there — or to South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini — in the past 14 days are banned from entering Canada.

And Canadians returning from any of the 10 countries will have to be tested before entering the country, and effective Tuesday night, that test cannot have been administered in one of those countries, meaning they will first need to go to a third country to receive a negative test result before travelling home.

Those who are vaccinated will have to be tested at the airport and remain in a government quarantine facility until they receive a negative result. Then, they can go home to finish isolating as the await their day-eight test result. While people who are unvaccinated will have to quarantine for the full 14 days in a government facility.

In addition,  all air travellers coming from outside Canada, with the exception of the United States, will now need to be tested at the airport, on top of the existing pre-departure test requirement.

“These testing measures will allow us to assess the evolving situation and determine any additional and appropriate measures,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said at a press conference yesterday. While Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Canada is preparing for a “possible extension” of this policy to include the U.S. and the land borders if warranted.

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 30, 2021

Countries Tighten Borders in Response to New Variant

As the scientific community rushes to gauge the risk and severity of the latest COVID-19 variant, dubbed Omicron, many countries aren’t waiting for the results and are going ahead and imposing travel bans on affected countries.

Arguing that the measures are based on “abundance of caution,” Canada’s health minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, explained yesterday why Canada is joining the U.S. and European Union in restricting travel from countries in southern Africa (including South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Namibia) where the Omicron variant has taken hold,  The restrictions will remain in place until at least Jan. 31, 2022.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong, which is still operating under a zero-COVID strategy with very stringent measures in place, is planning to slap a ban on foreigners from entering the city from countries that have been affected by Omicron. That list includes South Africa, Australia, Israel and several European countries, and Canada, which, to date, is reporting five cases of the Omicron variant.

The fact that two of the Canadian cases of the new variant were diagnosed in travellers returning from Nigeria, a country that is not on the banned list, is fuelling debate on whether the latest travel bans will prove effective. “When we’re dealing with very transmissible respiratory viruses, having focused travel restrictions to a particular country or a particular region, it’s not usually an effective strategy,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and scientist at the University of Toronto.

CMA Study: Treatment Backlogs are Proving Fatal

A new Canadian Medical Association report shows the massive impact that the backlog of surgeries and procedures delayed or cancelled because of COVID-19 is having on the health outcomes of Canadians.

The report, called A Struggling System, attempts to determine how “access to care” has been affected in the nearly two years that the system has concentrated much of its efforts on fighting the pandemic. It suggests that the resulting delays in the delivery of care or shutdown of services (which saw huge drops in cancer screening; home care assessments; and in-person visits for chronic disease care) has led to over 4,000 “excess deaths not related to COVID-19.”

All told, the study estimates that there is a backlog of more than 300,000 medical procedures caused by the pandemic. To end the waiting lists and provide Canadians with the timely care they need, the CMA estimates it will “require federal funding commitments of at least $1.3 billion to return to pre-pandemic levels of patient care.”

—Peter Muggeridge


Nov. 29, 2021

Ontario Calls for Point-of-Arrival Testing After Omicron Cases

On Monday morning, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, addressed the discovery of the Omicron variant in his province.

“I want to reassure Ontarians that we are prepared and ready to respond to this and any other new variant,” Moore said, adding that the province is awaiting results from four other suspected cases of the variant — including two individuals in Ottawa and two in Hamilton — while 375 travellers from seven different countries in southern Africa are in mandated quarantine and have been tested.

With Canada’s first two cases of the Omicron variant identified in the province this weekend, in addition to a travel ban on seven countries in southern Africa, Ontario health officials are also asking the federal government to implement testing upon arrival for all air travellers.

“The best defence against the Omicron variant is stopping it at our border,” read a statement released Sunday from Ontario Public Health.

“In addition to the measures recently announced, we continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travellers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant,”

Ottawa Public Health identified the variant in two people who’d recently travelled to Nigeria — not currently included in the government’s travel ban of foreign nationals from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The statement went on to encourage residents eligible for a booster to book their third dose if they haven’t already, with details said to be coming later this week about expanding eligibility to additional age groups.

In a statement on Twitter, Canada’s top doc said the country is in a good position to deal with the new variant.

“Despite this latest challenge, our position is strong. Surveillance & diagnostic tools detected #Omicron quickly & public health & individual measures + #COVID19Vaccines work to reduce risk of infection/spread of the virus,” wrote Dr. Theresa Tam Sunday.

WHO: New Variant Could Have “Severe Consequences”

The World Health Organization said Monday that the new coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally and, “If another major surge of COVID-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe.”

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said in a statement. “The overall global risk  … is assessed as very high.”

It was only Friday that the WHO declared the strain a “variant of concern.” It has now been found in more than a dozen countries, including Canada, with a growing list of nations banning travellers from several countries — including South Africa, where the variant was first reported.

Heading into the weekend, the agency cautioned against travel measures, but said today that countries should use a “risk-based approach to adjust international travel measures,” while acknowledging the impact of the variant “on vulnerable populations would be substantial, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage.”

Speaking at a press conference today, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that it’s not yet known if the variant is more infectious or increases risk of severe illness.

“But Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we’re done with COVID-19, it’s not done with us.”

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 26, 2021

Canada and Others Close Borders to Southern Africa Over Variant Fears

As experts from the World Health Organization decided Friday that a new strain of the coronavirus, Omicron, first identified in South Africa is indeed  a “variant of concern,” countries around the world had already started closing their borders to travellers from a number of countries in southern Africa.

Canada Friday joined a growing list of nations imposing restrictions in hopes of limiting spread of the new variant.

As the CBC reports, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced this afternoon that all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini or Mozambique in the last 14 days will be barred from entering Canada.

As well, although Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to return home from these countries, they will be required to wait for the results of a COVID-19 arrival test at a hotel.

Israel, one of the countries that has also made the move to restrict travel, confirmed today that the B.1.1.529 variant was identified in a traveller from Malawi — a land-locked nation in southeast Africa — and that two other cases were being investigated for the variant.

Israel’s prime minister says his country is on the verge of declaring a state of emergency in light of the discovery. “Our highest principle currently is to act fast, strong and now,” said Naftali Bennett.

And as the Toronto Star reports, Italy today announced a measure to ban entry of anyone who, in the pat 14 days, has been in seven southern African nations — South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini.

The U.K. and several parts of Asia have already restricted travel with the southern Africa region. And as the Wall Street Journal reports, the European Union today said that it would propose activating an “emergency brake” on air travel between the region and its 27-country bloc.

However, the WHO has yet to recommend travel restrictions, with spokesperson Christian Lindmeier telling a U.N. briefing in Geneva today, “At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against.”

Germany’s BioNTech SE says it will take two weeks to determine if the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer is as effective against this new variant, with a spokesperson telling WSJ that the shot could be modified, if needed, within six weeks — and initial batches shipped within 100 days.

“High or Extreme Stress” Ahead for Most of Europe’s ICUs, Predicts WHO

The threat of possibly more contagious strain of the coronavirus comes as Europe deals with a new wave of infections.

Reported deaths have doubled since the end of September, reaching nearly 4,200 a day last week. And for the 53 countries that make up Europe, the WHO predicts “high or extreme stress” on ICUs in 49 of them between now and March, reports The Washington Post.

In Germany, the air force will begin helping to transfer intensive care patients from hospitals at capacity to those with space. The country’s Health Minister says people need to sharply reduce their contacts to curb spread of the coronavirus.

“The situation is dramatically serious, more serious than it’s been at any point in the pandemic,” Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin.

Germany reported 76,414 new cases in the past 24 hours and 357 new deaths, bringing the death toll from the pandemic to 100,476.

The WHO blames the highly contagious Delta variant, indoor gatherings with less precautions and pockets of unvaccinated people for the latest surge of COVID-19 across Europe.

Who’s Getting COVID in Ontario? And Who Should Get the Booster?

As Ontario sees daily cases of COVID-19 increase, reporting 927 new infections Friday — the highest increase since Sept. 4 — unvaccinated individuals made up 91 per cent of COVID cases in the province, as of Nov. 14.

That’s according to data released Thursday by Public Health Ontario.

The report of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province after its vaccination rollout began shows that breakthrough infections since Dec. 14, 2020 — defined as “individuals who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and were infected more than two weeks after receiving their second dose” — account for just 3.8 per cent of cases.

That works out to 17,596 breakthrough infections out of the 11.1 million confirmed cases.

What’s more, there were just 40 breakthrough cases in individuals who’d had a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s clear that vaccines are working phenomenally well,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert and a former member of Ontario’s now disbanded vaccine task force.

“But if you look at all the breakthrough cases, there is a greater probability that the older age cohorts will have more serious infections.” Based on this and data from other parts of the world, “it would make sense to expand third dose eligibility to the 50-year-old age cohort and up.”

The data shows that while unvaccinated cases account for 90.9 per cent of hospitalizations and 90.2 of deaths, breakthrough cases accounted for just 2.7 per cent of hospitalizations and 3.3 of deaths — but with nearly a quarter of those severe outcomes happening in fully vaccinated people over 80, another 12 per cent in fully vaccinated people in their 70s and a little more than five per cent among fully vaccinated people in their 60s.

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 25, 2021

New COVID-19 Variant Discovered in South Africa

South African scientists are investigating the implications of a new COVID-19 variant that has rapidly increased in its most populated province of Gauteng.

The variant — called B.1.1.529 — has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations that could potentially help it evade the body’s immune response, making it more transmissible, scientists told reporters at a news conference.

“Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be,” South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement.

The variant has been identified in around 100 specimens and the country requested the presence of a World Health Organization (WHO) working group on virus evolution to discuss the new variant on Friday.

The strain has also been found in Botswana and in a traveller returning from South Africa to Hong Kong. Scientists believe that as many as 90 per cent of new cases in Gauteng could be of the new variant.

 COVID-19 Vaccines for Infants and Toddlers on the Way

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says Canada could see approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for babies and toddlers early in the new year.

In an interview with CBC’s Radio-Canada, Tam said a rollout of vaccines for Canada’s youngest could prove a turning point in the fight against the virus.

“Children do have a robust immune system and I expect that they will mount a good immune response to the vaccine as well,” she said.

“And for their parents as well, it’s sort of offering them some further hope.”

Children aged five to 11 are now eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after Health Canada’s approval last week. The same company is now running clinical trials for those aged six months to just under five years.

Meanwhile, Moderna, who’s still waiting on Health Canada approval for its COVID-19 vaccine for children six to 11, is also recruiting younger children for a clinical trial.

Tam said she anticipates results coming in from Pfizer-BioNTech for those aged two to five first and hopes to see some trial data toward the end of this year, adding that the most likely timeline for approval “is optimistically at the beginning of next year.”

She says a vaccine rollout for that age group could provide an extra layer of protection and offer parents “another option for reducing disruptions in their life, whether it be daycare or kindergarten.”

“That would be really great news once we get the results,” said Tam.

Public Health Agency of Canada Hopes to Keep Wasted Vaccines Under 5%

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is hoping to keep the number of wasted COVID-19 doses under five per cent.

According to CBC News, that works out to 3.7 million of the 73.7 million doses that have been sent out to provinces and territories, used by the federal government or held in the central vaccine inventory as of Nov. 18.

While PHAC has not released the total number of wasted vaccines to date, a Canadian Press survey of provincial governments found that an average of about 2.6 percent were discarded by responding jurisdictions.

“An estimate of 2.6 per cent of reported waste is within the planning parameters of five per cent that we have been using given the nature of the product (biological) and the management to date,” a spokesperson for PHAC wrote in a statement.

In the same survey, provinces gave various explanations for wasted vaccines, including dropped vials or syringes, defective syringes or damaged vials, poor dose management and expired doses.

Vaccine waste can also depend on the challenges a particular area presents. In Nunavut, which reported discarding 10.6 per cent of their vaccines in the same survey, may have difficulty using up entire vials of vaccine as communities in the territory are often spread further apart.

Once a vial is opened, there is a limited window to distribute the remaining doses before it expires. The federal government warned that wasted doses from opened vials could become more prominent with the slowing demand for COVID-19 vaccines. They also said that it works with provinces and territories to ensure the distribution of new vaccines align with their needs and assists in facilitating transport of doses between jurisdictions to minimize waste.

—Andrew Wright


Nov. 24, 2021

Conservatives and Bloc Want to Scrap Hybrid House of Commons

More than 20 months into the pandemic, and remote or hybrid working has become commonplace. But the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois both want participation in the House of Commons to return to in-person only.

As reported by the Toronto Star, Conservative MPs will oppose a government proposal today that the return to Parliament be a hybrid one, allowing members to participate remotely if they are ill, or have sick family — a move both the Liberals and NDP are said to support.

Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen says her party fears hybrid sittings “let the government off the hook,” giving ministers an excuse not to turn up for question period. Rather than protecting the population from spread of the coronavirus, she argues that the hybrid format is designed to protect the government from “scrutiny and accountability.”

MPs will debate whether to move forward with a hybrid House of Commons today.

A report by Statistics Canada from this past August showed that the proportion of Canadians teleworking increased from 4 per cent before March of 2020, to 32 per cent as of the beginning of this year.

Of new teleworkers, 90 per cent reported being at least as productive working at home, and 80 per cent said they would like to work at least half of their working hours remotely once the pandemic is over.

Ontario Extends Emergency Order

Ontario extended emergency orders under the Reopening Ontario Act (ROS) on Tuesday. The orders were set to expire Dec. 1, but will now continue to March 28, 2022.

As CTV News reports, the move aligns with Premier Doug Ford’s plan to lift remaining pandemic restrictions in March. Without extending the ROA, all 28 remaining public health measures currently in place would have expired, including the proof of vaccination system.

The province hit pause on its reopening plan earlier this month after a continued increase in new daily COVID-19 cases.

The next step of the reopening plan, now slated for Jan. 17, is the lifting of capacity limits for public places where proof of vaccination is not required. Ford has said that the vaccine certificate system would begin being eased around that time as well. And by the end of March, Ontario plans to lift all remaining restrictions, including the mask mandate for indoor public settings.

Poll Suggests a Third of Americans Believe Thanksgiving Gatherings Risky

Results from an Axios-Ipsos poll, released Tuesday, suggest that a third of Americans perceive the risk of gathering for Thanksgiving to be at least moderately risky as compared to nearly two-thirds who thought that last year.

Of 682 American adults surveyed, 31 per cent said that they believe there is a “large or moderate risk” in seeing friends or family for the holiday, down from 64 per cent a year ago.

And of those planning Thanksgiving gatherings, 30 per cent said guests will include unvaccinated people, while 17 per cent said they didn’t know the vaccine status of guests.

As the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted earlier this week, unvaccinated people are six times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than those who are vaccinated.

“Infections among the unvaccinated continue to drive this pandemic, hospitalizations, and deaths — tragically, at a time when we have vaccines that can provide incredible protection,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a White House briefing Monday.

“As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I want to take a moment to reflect on where we were a year ago. I can remember waiting in great anticipation for the lifesaving vaccines we currently have at our fingertips.

“We would encourage people who gather to do so safely after they’ve been fully vaccinated, as we’ve been saying for months now.”

The poll’s respondents were almost split when asked whether Thanksgiving guests were regularly wearing masks in public places, with 38 per cent responding yes and 41 per cent responding no.

While 21 per cent said their guests were being less strict than them about COVID safety, and a little less than a fifth of respondents didn’t know whether their guests were considered high risk for getting COVID-19.

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 23, 2021

Poll: Almost Half of Canadians Plan to Ditch Social Distancing Over Holidays

A new poll found that 45 per cent of Canadians say they will “greet others with a handshake, hug or kiss” at Christmas parties and other holiday gatherings, reports Global News.

In Ontario, the number prepared to ditch social distancing over the winter vacation rose to 50 per cent, compared to only 37 per cent in B.C.

Christian Bourque, executive vice-president of Leger, which conducted the online poll, said the finding suggested that Canadians may be becoming complacent about the risk of COVID-19 because they are vaccinated.

Forty-nine per cent of Canadians confessed they were not afraid of catching the virus.

“Canadians are showing indications that they are relaxing. Now that there is a fifth wave in Europe, Canadians are indicating that they are heading for a holiday season where they will take too many chances,” said Bourque.

Forty-seven per cent of Canadians say they would ask people if they are vaccinated before inviting them to a holiday party. And only 35 per cent said they would invite someone who is not fully vaccinated into their home.

Little more than a third of Canadians said they were planning to do their shopping at the mall, like they used to, with 42 per cent saying they would stick with shopping online.

Only 18 per cent plan to get on a plane to see friends and family during the vacation and nine per cent have plans to fly to a vacation spot during the holiday. And 79 per cent of Canadians support vaccine passports, while 21 per cent say they oppose them.

Eligible Ontarians Lagging in Getting Third Doses of COVID-19 Vaccines

Of three million Ontarians eligible to receive a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, only about 290,000 have received them, despite the wide availability of the shots, reports the Toronto Star. Six months must have elapsed between a second dose and a third one.

Those eligible include everyone age 70 and over; health-care workers and essential caregivers in congregate settings; those who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot; First Nations, Inuit and Métis adults; immunocompromised people, transplant recipients, patients with hematological cancers; and seniors living in congregate settings.

Experts have warned that while the initial two-dose regime provides a good defence against severe disease, hospitalization and death, the third dose provides a “dramatic increase in protection,” according to Dr. Peter Jüni, an epidemiologist and scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital, tweeted Monday, “Only 10 % of eligible Ontarians have received a 3rd COVID-19 vaccine dose. The messaging has been totally bungled. This is a 3 dose vaccine. Let’s stop minimizing the importance of preventing symptomatic cases and creating guilt about getting a 3rd dose.”

And Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health in the U.S., where all adults are eligible for a third dose, tweeted Monday evening, “Booster eligibility can still be confusing. So here’s my guide to help you decide whether you should get a booster 6 months after your 2nd shot:

Are you an adult?

If yes, get a booster”

Vaccine Appointments for Kids Now Available, Manitoba Site Crashes

The Ontario portal for booking COVID-19 vaccine appointments for kids age five  to 11 opened at 8 a.m. today, but people reported on social media that they were able to access it even earlier, reports CBC News.

People can make appointments through the portal and contact centre, public health units’ booking systems, some pharmacies and primary care providers. The province has said it expects to start administering the first shots on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Manitoba parents were so eager to make vaccine appointments for their kids when the booking site opened at 6 a.m. Monday, that they crashed the site within 30 minutes, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

However, as soon as the online booking portal opened, the system crashed and was offline for about 30 minutes before it started to accept reservations.

Meanwhile, people calling into the province’s vaccine hotline were told their wait time would be two minutes, only to be placed on hold for nearly an hour. A provincial spokesperson said the longest callback time Monday was about two hours.

Provincial vaccine task force lead Dr. Joss Reimer said the first pediatric doses will be administered Thursday. Approximately 126,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to arrive Tuesday and will be distributed across Manitoba within a week.

Delta Subvariant Found in B.C. Is More Infectious, Will Be Dominant in Britain

A Delta subvariant of COVID-19 that is more infectious but slightly milder than its ancestor strain is now behind one in six cases in England and is on its way to becoming dominant in months, reports the Daily Mail.

A government-funded study last week found the new strain is slightly less likely to cause illness, meaning the U.K. could be dealing with a more manageable and milder form of COVID-19 next year.

B.C. has detected a small number of cases of this lineage, according to a report last week by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

The AY.4.2 variant is 10 to 15 per cent more infectious than the already highly virulent original Delta virus and is currently growing at a rate in Britain of about two per cent a week.

According to the Sanger Institute, the largest variant surveillance centre in Britain, AY.4.2 was responsible for 16 per cent of new cases in England in the 14 days leading up to November 13. Its hotspot is Torridge, Devon, where it is behind 51 per cent of infections.

But its rate of growth is speeding up and experts predict it could be dominant in England as soon as January, before outpacing Delta in the rest of the U.K. shortly after.

Around two thirds of people (66.7 per cent) who catch AY.4.2 suffer symptoms compared to three-quarters (76.4 per cent) from regular Delta. Professor Jeffrey Barrett, who heads up sequencing at the Sanger Institute, said he expects the subvariant to become dominant in January.

—Judy Gerstel


Nov. 22, 2021

More Than 300 Toronto School Board Staff Members Put on Leave 

The Toronto District School Board says 330 staff members who did not comply with the board’s mandate to disclose their vaccination status have been put on administrative leave without pay starting today, reports CP24.

Another 290 staff members, including many who work as special needs assistants, designated early childhood educators and lunchroom supervisors have been given temporary exemptions.

“These exemptions will only last until we are able to adequately fill these positions on a case-by-case basis,” the school board said in a memo to parents.

Unvaccinated staff will be required to undertake rapid antigen testing three times a week.

Growth in school-related COVID-19 cases continues to outpace the increase in infections in the broader community, with 100 new cases reported in Ontario’s publicly funded schools on Friday.

As of Friday, there were 1,243 known, active COVID-19 cases associated with schools in Ontario, a 26 per cent increase week-over-week.

Provinces Start Booking Appointments as Vaccines for Kids Arrive

The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for children landed in Canada on Sunday, two days after Health Canada approved the modified version of the Pfizer vaccine for children age five to 11, CTV reports.

Today, Ontario announced that COVID-19 vaccination appointments for children aged five to 11 in Ontario can be booked starting at 8 a.m., Tuesday, the Globe and Mail reports.

The province says appointments are expected to begin as early as Thursday, when vaccine supply arrives at clinics across Ontario. Bookings can be made through the provincial COVID-19 vaccination portal and contact centre, directly through public health units using their own booking systems, participating pharmacies and select primary care providers.

In order to book an appointment, children must be turning five years old by the end of 2021.

Health Canada promises enough supply to provide a first dose to every child in the newly approved age bracket.

Toronto Public Health issued a statement Friday saying it was preparing to open 20,000 slots between Nov. 25 and Dec. 5 at city-run immunization clinics.

Manitoba announced Friday that parents and caregivers could start making first-dose appointments for eligible kids by phone or online as of 6 a.m., today.

In British Columbia, parents could pre-register their child for an appointment online or by phone. The province said more than 75,000 children had registered as of Friday, putting them on a list to be contacted for an appointment when booking opens.

Alberta announced a similar pre-registration program, adding that the province plans to administer shots late this week provided the doses arrive as expected.

Saskatchewan is scheduled to release details today about its plans to vaccinate children, with health and education officials working to set up clinics at schools.

Quebec said Friday that the province’s immunization plan would be unveiled this week, with plans to vaccinate 700,000 children with their first dose by Christmas.

Fauci Warns Time Running Short to Prevent “Dangerous” Surge in U.S.

The U.S. government’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on Sunday that time was running short to prevent a “dangerous” new surge of COVID-19 infections from overwhelming the upcoming holiday season, reports The Guardian.

Coronavirus cases across the U.S. are rising again for the first time in weeks, and approaching 100,000 a day. Experts fear that this week’s Thanksgiving holiday, for which tens of millions of Americans will travel for indoor celebrations with family and friends, will fuel a further surge.

Fauci said it was not too late to avoid a significant worsening of COVID-19 rates leading up to Christmas and New Year’s if the public acted now. Booster shots were approved Friday for all adults in the U.S., and millions of American children aged five to 11 have already received their first shot.

“We have a lot of virus circulating around,” Fauci said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “Cases are starting to go up, which is not unexpected when you get into a winter season. People start to go indoors and we know that immunity does wane over time.”

The numbers of Americans traveling for Thanksgiving this year will be close to pre-pandemic levels, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has predicted.

The daily average of new cases has risen 29 per cent in the last 14 days, analysis by the New York Times shows, while fewer than 60 per cent of those eligible are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the 2021 U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed that of 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Disney, one of Florida’s biggest employers, announced on Saturday it would no longer insist cast members be vaccinated, after Governor Ron DeSantis signed sweeping legislation on Thursday countermanding U.S. President Joe Biden’s order for compulsory vaccinations for businesses with more than 100 employees.

Huge Protests Across Europe Over COVID-19 Restrictions, Mandates

Anger at government restrictions spread to Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark and Croatia on Sunday, the Daily Mail reports.

Meanwhile, Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, today warned that Germans will be “vaccinated, cured or dead” by winter’s end, The Telegraph reported.

In Brussels over the weekend, police fired tear gas and water cannons as some of the 10,000 protestors marching in the Belgian capitol threw firecrackers at the police officers, reports the BBC.

Some protesters threw fireworks at police officers, who intervened with tear gas and water cannon. Demonstrators are mainly opposed to the use of COVID-19 passes, which stops the unvaccinated from entering venues such as restaurants or bars.

This comes after fresh protests in the Netherlands against new lockdown rules. On Saturday, people hurled fireworks at police and set fire to bicycles in The Hague, one night after protests in Rotterdam turned violent and police fired gunshots.

Thousands of demonstrators also took to the streets in Austria, Croatia and Italy as anger mounted over new curbs.

In Belgium, rules on masks have been tightened, including in places such as restaurants where COVID-19 passes are already required, and most Belgians will also have to work from home four days a week until mid-December. There are also plans to make vaccinations for health workers compulsory.

Earlier, World Health Organization (WHO) regional director, Dr. Hans Kluge, told the BBC that unless measures were tightened across Europe, half a million more deaths could be recorded by next spring.

“COVID-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region,” he said, adding “we know what needs to be done” in order to fight the virus – such as getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and using COVID-19 passes.

Many governments across the continent are bringing in new restrictions to try to tackle rising infections. A number of countries have recently reported record-high daily case numbers.

In the Netherlands, a second night of riots broke out on Saturday in several towns and cities. Hooded rioters set fire to bicycles in The Hague, as riot police used horses, dogs and batons to chase the crowds away. Officials announced an emergency order in the city, and at least seven people were arrested.

The Netherlands imposed a three-week partial lockdown last weekend after recording a record spike in COVID-19 cases. Bars and restaurants must close at 10 p.m. and crowds are banned at sports events.

Tens of thousands of people protested in Austria’s capital, Vienna, after the government announced a new national lockdown and plans to make COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory in February 2022. It is the first European country to make vaccination a legal requirement. The country will enter a 20-day nationwide lockdown starting today, shutting all but essential shops and ordering people to work from home.

In Croatia, thousands marched in the capital, Zagreb, to show their anger at mandatory vaccinations for public sector workers, while in Italy, a few thousand protesters gathered at the ancient Circus Maximus in Rome to oppose “Green Pass” certificates required at workplaces, venues and on public transport.

French authorities are sending dozens more police officers to quell unrest on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, a French overseas department. Riots saw looters ransack dozens of shops and set businesses alight after protests against France’s own COVID-19 pass turned violent.

—Judy Gerstel


Nov. 19, 2021

Canada Approves First Vaccine for Under 12s

Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11.

As with those 12 and up, the vaccine will require two shots, but a third the dose — 10 mcg — given 21 days apart.

“After a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, the Department has determined that the benefits of this vaccine for children between 5 and 11 years of age outweigh the risks,” the agency wrote in a press release.

“Health Canada has placed terms and conditions requiring Pfizer-BioNTech to continue providing information to Health Canada on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in this younger age group. This will provide the Department with more data from ongoing studies and real-world use to ensure that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh any risks, as well as to detect any potential new safety signals in any age group.”

At a press conference Friday, Dr. Supriya Sharma, a senior medical advisor with Health Canada, said most side-effects from the vaccine reported in children during clinical trial were mild to moderate — including redness and swelling at injection site, headache and fatigue — and resolved quickly.

She said the approval was good news for kids and adults alike.

“It provides another tool to protect Canadians, and to the relief of many parents, will help bring back a degree of normality to children’s lives, allowing them to more safely do the things that they have missed during the last 20 months.”

Health Canada is also reviewing an application from Moderna for approval of its COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 6 to 11.

Austria Goes Back Into Lockdown, to Make Vaccines Mandatory for All

Less than a week after locking down its unvaccinated population, Austria is set for a 20-day nationwide lockdown starting Monday. And the Alpine nation has taken the bold move of making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all, starting Feb. 1, 2022.

The Vatican, a city/state, is the only other country in Europe to mandate vaccination for all its residents.

“Despite months of persuasion, we have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated,” said Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Friday..

“Sustainably increasing the vaccination rate is the only way to get out of this vicious circle,” he said.

The country of about nine million people set a record on Thursday, reporting 15,000 new COVID infections.

According to tracking by the New York Times, 70 per cent of Austrians have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 65 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Although the European Medicines Agency has yet to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for those under the age of 12, on Monday children between the ages of five and 12 began being inoculated in Austria’s capital, Vienna.

Schools will remain open through the lockdown, but parents have been asked to keep kids home if possible. And once again the population will be housebound, with the exception of work — with teleworking recommended for those who can — shopping for essentials and getting out for exercise.

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 18, 2021

Pfizer Approval for Kids Expected Friday

As the Toronto Star reports, Canadians can look forward to a COVID-19 vaccine approval for kids as soon as tomorrow. Sources tell the Star that Health Canada will give the green light for use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — at a third the regular dose — in five-to-11-year-olds Friday, and that delivery of enough doses for every child to get a first shot is expected in the coming days.

The request for approval from Pfizer was submitted to Health Canada on Oct. 18 and, once approved, will put Canada on a list of the first few countries — including the U.S. — to give approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for use in children under 12.

The approval can’t come soon enough — quite literally — for some parents, with Global News reporting that they are looking to cross the border in order to get their kids the shot in the U.S.

“They [Health Canada] don’t seem to want to protect children at all here. So it seems like it’s up to us to protect our kids,” said Geoff Berner from Vancouver, who told Global that he had an appointment scheduled on Nov. 22 at a pharmacy in Washington state for his eight-year-old daughter to get the Pfizer vaccine.

Germany: Christmas Market Cancelled, Stricter Rules for Workplaces 

Amid rising COVID-19 cases, Germany’s government voted Thursday to approve stricter measures for workers in the country, with a law requiring either proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19, or a negative COVID test, from employees in order to enter communal workplaces.

Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 65,371 new daily cases, surpassing the previous 24-hour record.

The head of Germany’s disease control agency is also calling for increased vaccination, from the country’s current rate of 67.7 to significantly above 75 per cent. (A little more than 75 per cent of Canadians were fully vaccinated as of Thursday morning.)

“We are currently heading toward a serious emergency,” said Lothar Wieler, the director of the Robert Koch Institute, on Wednesday. “We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.”

And for the second year in a row, Munich’s Christkindlmarkt, one of Germany’s oldest and biggest Christmas markets, has been cancelled.

The outdoor market, which is said to date back to the 14th century, normally sees more than 3 million visitors annually and in 2019 featured 150 vendors spread over 20,000 square metres.

“It is bitter news that I have today for all Munich residents, and especially for the stall owners,” said Mayor Dieter Reiter. “However, the extreme situation in our hospitals and exponentially rising infection rates leave me no other choice.”

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 17, 2021

Border Measures Set to Change

The Federal government is signalling that it will make changes to the prevention measures currently in place for travellers re-entering Canada. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said yesterday that an announcement on what those changes will look like is “coming soon.”

Many are hoping the new measures will do away with the requirement that all fully vaccinated travellers crossing the border into Canada must provide a negative molecular COVID-19 (PCR) test within 72 hours of their planned entry. These tests are not only expensive but are also proving to be a logistical headache for travellers to obtain. As well, business and travel groups claim that the requirement is stifling travel to Canada, hurting businesses that rely on a steady flow of tourists and hindering their recovery.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical health officer, who was an early proponent of the PCR-test requirement has changed her stance recently, saying that the measure “is being actively reviewed.” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters yesterday that in a recent meeting with the country’s premiers, most of them were in favour of scrapping the measure.

New Definition for “Fully Vaccinated” 

Currently, a “fully vaccinated” individual describes someone who has received two shots of the COVID-19 vaccination. For Canadians, this covers those who have received two doses of the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines, or a mix of the three.

However, due to the waning effectiveness of vaccines over time and rising infection rates of the Delta variant, some global leaders are considering changing this definition.

British Prime Minster Boris Johnson hinted at such on Monday when he told reporters: “It’s very clear that getting three jabs – getting your booster – will become an important fact and it will make life easier for you in all sorts of ways.” French President Emmanuel Macron announced last week that anyone over the age of 65 will have to get a third shot to renew their vaccine passport. And Israeli officials are now saying that citizens can only renew their vaccine passport if they’ve had the booster shot.

—Peter Muggeridge


Nov. 16, 2021

Guinness Taps Run Dry, Champagne Could Be Next

It would seem that booze is the next thing to be disrupted by global supply chain issues during the pandemic. A pub owner in Vancouver is turning to local porters over a shortage of Guinness.

“We don’t have any Guinness. It’s a tragedy,” Sean Heather, owner of The Irish Heather Shebeen, told Global News. “At the end of the day, Guinness is about 75 per cent of my beer sales and right now, the new product is selling 45 per cent of that. Basically, I am taking a hit.”

Heather says he’s been told his product is on backlogged ships off San Diego.

“The last two deadlines have come and gone and there has been no sign. We just have to move forward assuming there is no Guinness for the next few months and if it comes, it’s gravy and if it doesn’t — well, we are prepared.”

If there’s an import on your wish list this holiday season, grab it while you can says an industry insider.

“We are already seeing shortages and massive disruptions in the supply chain where we can’t get them into the stores now because, instead of taking a few weeks to get to market, it’s now taking a few months,” Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, told Global.

“If you have a favourite product and if you want to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate for holiday dinners, I would buy it now and keep it in the fridge for the next six to eight weeks,” said Guignard.

Sens First NHL Team to Cancel Games Due to Outbreak

The National Hockey League announced Monday afternoon that, with 10 players off on COVID protocol, Ottawa Senators’ games were postponed at least through to Saturday night’s matchup against the New York Rangers.

The Sens are the first NHL team to cancel or postpone games this season due to an outbreak.

The decision was made after “evidence of continued spread in recent days,” the NHL said in a statement yesterday. “As an appropriate precaution, the team’s training facilities have been closed, effective immediately, and will remain closed for players until further notice.”

The outbreak, which began 11 days ago now, also took out the club’s assistant coach, Jack Capuano. The team has said that all their players and staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mask and Open Windows, Recommends Tam

Anyone watching or attending a recent NHL game can attest that mask-wearing in the stands is hit or miss. But Canada’s top doc is still pushing for masks as an extra layer of protection against COVID-19.

As the Toronto Star reports, in a series of five tweets this past Saturday,
Canada’s chief public health officer urged people to wear a “well-fitted/well-constructed” mask to help stop airborne transmission of the coronavirus.

Although public health officials were slow to cop to the reality of aerosol spread of COVID — focusing on respiratory droplets as the sole concern well into the pandemic — Dr. Theresa Tam points out that, like second-hand smoke, “virus particles can spread over distances and linger in fine aerosols for periods of time.”

She said that in addition to wearing a snug-fitting mask with layers that can filter out fine virus particles, improved ventilation indoors can also help reduce virus inhalation and spread.

In a campaign dubbed “Stop COVID-19 Hanging Around,” the U.K.’s National Health Service recommends that, when gathering with friends and family at home, opening the window for 10 minutes every hour “significantly lowers the level of COVID-19 particles indoors.”

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 15, 2021

U.K. Opening Up Booster Program to Those as Young as 16

Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization announced Monday that in addition to people 50 and over and immunocompromised individuals, those aged 40 to 49 will now also be eligible for a booster shot six months after their second COVID-19 dose.

The group also announced that 16- and 17-year-olds, who had initially only been eligible for a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Britain, would now be offered a second dose.

At a press conference Monday, Britain’s deputy chief medical officer said the booster program was moving “at considerable pace” and achieving “well in excess of 90 per cent protection against symptomatic infection.”

“I believe, therefore, that if the booster program is successful with very high uptake, we can massively reduce the worry about hospitalization and death due to COVID at Christmas and for the rest of this winter for literally millions of people,” Dr. Jonathan Van-Tamtold told reporters. “It really is as simple and decisive as that.”

As the Toronto Star reports, the move to include younger adults in its booster program comes as a new study from the U.K. Health Security showed adults over 50 had at least 93 per cent reduced risk of getting symptomatic COVID-19 two weeks after their booster.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the move to get more Britons a booster will offer protection as COVID cases increase in Europe.

“What we have certainly got to recognize is there is a storm of infection out there in parts of Europe, you can see those numbers ticking up very sharply in some of our continental friends,“ Johnson said Monday.

“And we’ve just got to recognize that there is always a risk that a blizzard could come from the east again, as the months get colder.”

Manitoba Health Minister Warns of More Restrictions if New Measures Don’t Work

“I could be out next week making changes if we see the uptick [of COVID-19 cases] continue,” said Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon in an interview with CBC Sunday.

Gordon said she won’t hesitate to impose more and tougher restrictions after introducing measures Friday, including a vaccine-or-test mandate for 12 to 17-year-olds who play indoor sports; cancelling some surgeries in Winnipeg to free up ICU beds; and putting capacity limits on religious gatherings where vaccination is not required of attendees.

“We do believe the restrictions we put in place will help to bend that curve,” the health minister said.

“And if it doesn’t, we’ve been very clear with Manitobans that the restrictions could be changed on a daily basis.”

Manitoba now has the highest infection rate in Canada.

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 12, 2021

Ontario Extends Deadline by a Month for LTC Workers to be Fully Vaxxed 

Last month the Ontario government announced a vaccine mandate for all workers in long-term care facilities, originally requiring them to be fully vaccinated by Monday.

But that deadline was pushed back to Dec. 13 on Friday, with first doses now required by Nov. 15.

The Ontario government reported today that 98 per cent of staff in the province’s long-term care homes have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 95 per cent have two.

But a spokesperson for the Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips says the numbers released today are incomplete, as 57 homes have yet to report updated figures due to technical issues with the reporting system.

Quebec’s Top Docs Testify at Coroner’s Long-Term Care Inquest

At a coroner’s inquest into the devastating outcome of COVID-19 in Quebec’s long-term care homes, health officials cited “structural” challenges for the province’s failure to protect residents from the deadly virus during the first wave of the pandemic.

“We were not equipped to face a crisis of this scale with the resources that we had. It wasn’t a matter of planning,” Dr. Richard Massé, strategic medical adviser, to the province’s top doctor, said Thursday.

As the Globe and Mail reports, previous testimony has questioned the Quebec government’s decisions early in the pandemic, including not to mandate masks sooner for all health-care workers and to prioritize hospitals but not nursing homes for such protective equipment.

“In March [of 2020], the availability of masks and testing procedures wasn’t limitless,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s national director of Public Health. “We had to make sure the stockpile was used in the most efficient way.”

According to the Globe report, previous witnesses have said the government’s response to COVID-19 in its long-term care sector shows a blind spot in care for, and protection of, older Quebecers.

Massé acknowledged during Thursday’s testimony that long-term care homes were not “at the same level of preparedness” as hospitals. “It’s not a matter of planning — it was a matter of structure, of resources, even of culture,” he said.

“It’s not a matter that could be solved in a month or two weeks or six weeks. It’s structural and more fundamental than that.”

Austria Moves to Lock Down Unvaxxed

With countries across Europe experiencing a fresh surge of COVID cases, Austria is set to take the bold move of locking down its unvaccinated citizens.

“The aim is clear: we want on Sunday to give the green light for a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at a news conference in Innsbruck Friday.

Unvaccinated Austrians are already excluded from entertainment venues, restaurants, hairdressers and other public settings, and under the new measures they will be ordered to stay home with the exception of “going to work, shopping for essentials, stretching one’s legs,” said Schallenberg.

On Thursday the chancellor called the country’s vaccination rate “shamefully low.” About 65 per cent of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lower rates in the European Union.

”It is clear that this winter will be uncomfortable for the unvaccinated,” Schallenberg warned on Thursday.

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 11, 2021

Tam: “Challenging Winter” Ahead

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says that while we’re seeing a “bump” in the number of COVID-19 cases, across the country, it’s not yet a cause for worry. Yesterday, she announced that even though the country is reporting 2,500 new cases and 33 deaths, the number of hospitalizations and deaths from the virus continue to remain relatively low.

Tam urged Canadians that “applying caution when we’re out” and “keeping up with measures to slow the spread” will prevent the disease from spreading again.

Last Friday, the country’s top health official advised Canadians not to let their guard down as “we could still be in for a challenging winter.” But Tam also sounded an optimistic tone for early next year, saying: “I don’t think we’re out of the woods. I think we should look probably towards the spring, when we will be in a better position.”

Europe Back at “Epicentre of Pandemic”

While the slight rise in Canadian COVID-19 cases isn’t causing health officials here a huge amount of concern, the global picture is becoming more worrisome. Yesterday, in its weekly update, the World Health Organization reported a seven per increase in new cases worldwide compared to last week, with Russia, Turkey, Great Britain and Germany leading the way.

The European region is reporting over 26,000 new deaths, a 10 per cent increase over the previous week. This surge in new cases and deaths prompted the WHO’s Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge to make the gloomy remark that the region was “back at the epicentre of the pandemic.” Kluge also issued a dire warning about the rising case counts, suggesting that Europe and Central Asia could see another 500,000 deaths by February if governments don’t implement measures to curb the spread.

The WHO’s cumulative data suggests that, worldwide as of Nov. 7, there have been over 249 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, resulting in a total of five million deaths.

—Peter Muggeridge


Nov. 10, 2021

Health Canada Approves Boosters for All Adults

Health Canada has approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s application that its COVID-19 vaccine be used as a booster shot for all Canadian adults over the age of 18. In a statement released yesterday, Health Canada said that after a “thorough, independent review of the evidence,” it found that Pfizer’s vaccine “meets the department’s stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements.”

Health Canada advises that a full-dose booster should be administered at least six months after an individual has completed their primary vaccine series in order to provide “strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19, including against the Delta variants.”

Some provinces have already begun administering the booster shot. In Ontario, for example, the third shot is being offered to to front-line health-care workers, people who are 70 years of age or older and those who live in long-term care and retirement homes. As well, the province will begin offering boosters to those who suffer from immunocompromised conditions and for those who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine.

New Brunswick Mask Mandate Here to Stay

New Brunswick’s health minister, Dorothy Shephard, told reporters yesterday that even as public health restrictions ease, mask-wearing mandates will remain in place for a while yet.

“I think we always knew that in the end, we’re going to be living with COVID,” said Shepard. “I also think that we know now, with the reality of what’s happened with [the] delta [variant], that masks are in our future for the foreseeable future.”

With only 6,865 confirmed cases in total and 121 COVID-related deaths, the province has largely escaped the devastating outbreaks that the virus has caused in other parts of Canada during the first four waves of the pandemic.

The New Brunswick government also announced that its efforts to provide booster shots to all those living in long-term care facilities are going smoothly, with 82 per cent of residents having already received their third shot and the rest to get their booster by the end of the month.

—Peter Muggeridge


Nov. 9, 2021

Yukon Declares State of Emergency, Ontario’s 7-Day Average Climbs

Yukon is going back into a state of emergency on Saturday, with proof of vaccination going into effect for table service at bars, restaurants and nightclubs with a limit of six people per table and no moving between tables.

Gyms will also require proof of vaccination, while high-intensity classes will be off the table entirely. The emergency measures will also make masking mandatory at public indoor settings, and include capacity limits on some indoor and outdoor gatherings.

“We are seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 in the territory and we need to take immediate action to protect the health and safety of Yukoners,” said Premier Sandy Silver in a news release Monday.

The territory reported 80 new cases of the coronavirus between Friday and Monday, bringing active cases in Yukon to 169.

Meanwhile in Ontario, the province’s seven-day case average has risen approximately 30 per cent in a week, with 441 new cases reported today as compared to 331 last Tuesday, and 269 the Tuesday before that.

The province’s test positivity rate is also at its highest since mid-September, with Public Health Ontario reporting a 3.1 per cent positivity rate Tuesday — up from 1.5 per cent a week earlier.

While mask mandates for indoor public places have remained in place, capacity limits were lifted over the past month for settings that require proof of vaccination, including sporting events, concerts, restaurants and gyms.

But exports are warning that Ontarians need to limit their contact with others, not increase it.

“The fact is, look, (the reopening) is an experiment. Now we know the experiment didn’t go well.” said Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of Ontario’s independent volunteer science table.

While Juri says there’s no need to panic, there is need to rewind the tape a little — using the example of Alberta, and now Denmark, where restrictions were lifted only to be reimplemented as cases once again surged.

“So people who don’t wear their masks because they have a popcorn or a Coke as an excuse in the sports arena? No go. Restaurants say, oh forget about vaccine certificates, they will lift it anyway very soon? No go,” he says.

“Going into places that seem really crowded that you wouldn’t have seen before the Thanksgiving weekend? No go.”

Ottawa Looking “Quite Carefully” at PCR Test Required to Enter Canada

After the U.S. land border officially reopened to Canadians Monday, calls are coming for Canada to scrap the negative COVID test currently required to enter — or re-enter — the country.

The mayor of Windsor, Ont. says testing is “unreasonable and costly” and that it has “dampened” the opportunity for families on either side of the border to once again see each.

“This PCR test requirement is a hard stop barrier for families to reunite, except for the wealthiest of Canadians,” Drew Dilkens told Global News.

“And that is unfair.”

But there is no immediate plan to do away with the rule that requires a negative PCR test be provided 72 hours before arrival to Canada.

“We are looking at these requirements quite carefully,” said a statement to Global News Monday from Andrew MacKendrick, a spokesperson for Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

“As the COVID situation remains volatile, officials and experts will continue to evaluate the measures in place, and make necessary adjustments as required.”

Australia Study: Unvaxxed 16 Times More Likely to Die From COVID

Unvaccinated people are 16 times more likely to end up in ICU or die from COVID-19.

That’s the finding from a study released Monday by Australia’s New South Wales health department. Of 412 people who died from the Delta outbreak over four months through to early October, 11 per cent were fully vaccinated — with an average age of 82 — and only about three per cent of people in ICU had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

As Reuters reports, these findings are in line with those from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said in September that unvaccinated people were 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated.

The Australian study also showed that more than 63 per cent of the 61,800 cases reported between June 16 and Oct. 7 were in unvaccinated people.

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 8, 2021

U.S. Customs Implement Random Check Policy at Land Border

The U.S. has reopened its border crossings to non-essential travel for the first time since March 2020. And although travellers looking to enter the country at land borders and via ferry crossings are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if they are over the age of 18, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have chosen a random check policy.

The CBP is encouraging travellers to have their proof-of-vaccination documents ready, but they may not be requested of people crossing the border.

“We are going to ask you if you are fully vaccinated,” Jeffrey Toth, program manager with the CBP’s Buffalo, N.Y., division, told CBC. “You may be asked to provide proof.”

And what happens in the event of non-compliance?

On its most recent post about the border changes that went into effect today — including that all Canadians arriving by air now also have to be fully vaccinated — the U.S. Consulate states that “failure to comply with the current border restrictions is an offence under the Quarantine Act and could lead to up to $750,000 in fines, and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months.”

Border Mayors Want Canada to Abandon PCR Testing to Re-enter Country

Although fully vaccinated Canadians can now travel into the U.S. at border crossings, the day trips that were abundant pre-COVID — Canadians made 1.8 million same-day trips by car in November 2019 — are still blunted by the fact that Canadians need to present a negative PCR test 72 hours before return.

“Wouldn’t it make more sense to have [an antigen test] done at the border rapidly? You can get one done in 15 minutes or even faster … rather than a 72 hour-old [PCR] test that’s sometimes logistically difficult [and] expensive to get,” Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, suggested in an interview with CBC.

As the Toronto Star reports, New York congressman Brian Higgins will meet today with mayors and community leaders from both sides of the border and a press conference is expected at which they will call on Ottawa to abandon the PCR test requirement. “In preparing for this day, we will see significant uptick in economic activity, but we’re still doing it with one hand tied behind our back, with this redundant, unnecessary testing requirement,” said Higgins.

“It just makes no sense,” said Perrin Beatty, a former federal cabinet minister and current CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce who believes the cost of PCR testing — which can be in the several hundreds of dollars — not only discourages travel but also does little to improve public safety.

The 72-hour policy was designed for Canadians who would be out of the country for an extended period of time, and might potentially get infected while abroad, Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal-based cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology explained to CBC.

“If you day-trip to the U.S. and come back, getting tested in the U.S. is not going to pick up any infection that you acquired that same day,” he said. “I think that’s an obvious place where that testing strategy isn’t all that helpful.”

Japan Reports No New Deaths for 1st Time in 15 Months

Japan reported no new deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday for the first time since Aug. 2, 2020.

The country, which was under a state of emergency through this past summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, has seen daily case counts fall since September after infections peak at about 25,000 a day during the height of its last wave.

On Monday, entry restrictions were eased for foreign students, workers and short-term business travellers who are fully vaccinated, have their activity plans guaranteed by sponsors and observe 10 days of self-isolation. Self-quarantine for Japanese citizens and foreign residents was also shortened to three days from the previous 10 days.

With 74 per cent of residents now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the government announced last week that, beginning in December, booster shots will be available to any resident who has had two shots — regardless of age or pre-existing conditions.

—Tara Losinski


Nov. 5, 2021

Good News Today From Public Health Agency of Canada About COVID-19 

Over the past month, Canada has made “good progress” in slowing the growth of COVID-19 across Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said during a press conference Friday, reports CTV News.

Since the last modelling by PHAC in early October, daily average case counts across the country have continued to decrease.

But the most recent modelling released by the agency shows the rate of decline has “slowed somewhat,” Tam cautioned, adding that the country could see some “bumps” in the trajectory of the pandemic through the rest of fall and in winter.

Over the past week an average of 2,230 cases were being reported daily, she said. “This means we are about halfway down from the peak of the fourth wave, when over 4,400 cases were being reported daily.”.

However, Tam warned that severe illness trends are “still elevated.”

The modelling shows that nationally, reported cases of COVID-19 are now highest among children under 12, who are not yet eligible to receive vaccines.

Tam confirmed Health Canada’s review of Pfizer’s vaccine for children under 12 remains ongoing, which she said will take “weeks, not months.”

Over 89 per cent of the eligible population – those 12 and older – have received at least one shot, while more than 84 per cent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated.

Tam said there are still more than 5.5 million Canadians who could receive a vaccine, but who have not yet been fully vaccinated.

PHAC is urging Canadians to “layer protections” against respiratory infections as the country heads into winter. This includes getting COVID-19 vaccines, flu shots and other routine vaccines, continuing to wear face masks, improve indoor ventilation and avoid crowds.

Pfizer Says its COVID-19 Pill Cuts Risk of Hospitalization, Death by 89 per cent

This morning, Pfizer announced in a press release that its experimental antiviral pill, paxlovid, reduced the risk of death and hospitalization by 89 per cent in patients newly diagnosed with COVID-19 in a large study. The drug is intended for use soon after symptoms develop in people at high risk of severe disease.

Pfizer says it stopped trials early as the initial results were so positive, reports the BBC.

Yesterday, the U.K. became the first country to conditionally approve molnupiravir, the COVID treatment pill developed by Merck. It was shown to cut hospitalization and deaths by half among patients with early COVID-19 symptoms. The Merck and Pfizer pills are a breakthrough because they’re the only oral treatments for the coronavirus. Existing treatments such as monoclonal antibodies must be give by IV or injection.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the paxlovid had “the potential … to eliminate up to nine out of 10 hospitalisations.”

Meanwhile, Health Canada says it’s still reviewing data about molnupiravir, the Merck pill authorized Thursday by the U.K., according to CP24.

The federal regulator said Thursday it continues to receive data “as new information becomes available” from Merck. “As the review is still ongoing, it is not possible to predict when a regulatory decision will be made,” Health Canada stated by email.

No Vaccine Mandate for Vancouver School Staff, Unlike Toronto

The Vancouver School Board announced Thursday that it will not mandate COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and other staff, reports the Vancouver Sun.

Surrey, B.C.’s largest school district, said earlier this week it decided against requiring shots for teachers and other staff members.

Meanwhile, Toronto District School Board staff who don’t have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 21 will be placed on unpaid leave, according to CP24.

Already, 100 permanent staff and 643 occasional staff who did not submit their mandatory vaccine attestation have been placed on a non-disciplinary administrative leave of absence without pay, the TDSB said.

The TDSB mandatory vaccination policy applies to all school board employees and volunteers, occasional teachers and casual education workers, school board trustees and student transportation drivers.

Study: Alcohol, Cannabis Sales in Canada Rose by $2.6B During Pandemic

Sales of alcohol and cannabis in Canada overshot predictions by more than $2.6 billion over the course of the pandemic, according to new research reported by CBC News.

The research from Hamilton’s McMaster University, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and the Homewood Research Institute was published Thursday in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.

The team used Statistics Canada data to look at alcohol and cannabis sales from March 2020 to June 2021, then compared that information to the 16 previous months.

The findings showed alcohol sales were 5.5 per cent over projected sales, which means people bought $1.86 billion more in alcohol than predicted pre-pandemic. Cannabis sales were 25 per cent more than expected, equalling an additional $811 million.

Leslie Buckley, chief of addictions at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, says the pandemic made people more stressed and isolated — a “perfect storm for increasing substance use.”

“People were spending a lot more time at home and being bored, having a blur of the weekdays and the weekend,” Buckley said.

Study: Gene Found That Doubles Risk of Respiratory Failure With COVID-19

Oxford University scientists have uncovered a gene that can double the risk of fatal respiratory failure in those who contract COVID-19, according to The Independent.

The high-risk genetic signal is carried in 60 per cent of people with South Asian heritage, which could help to explain the excess deaths seen in some South Asian communities across the U.K., as well as the impact that COVID has had in India.

The gene is present in 15 per cent of those with European ancestry, the study revealed, but is only found in two per cent of those with African Caribbean ancestry.

The study published Thursday in Nature Genetics, showed that the genetic signal was likely to affect cells in the lung.

The researchers discovered that the higher-risk version of the gene may prevent the cells lining people’s airways and lungs from responding to the virus as they should.

However, the presence of the gene doesn’t affect the immune system, meaning that people carrying this version of the gene should respond normally to vaccines. “Since the genetic signal affects the lung rather than the immune system, it means that the increased risk should be cancelled out by the vaccine.”

Currently in Britain, booster are shots are being offered to people over 50.

COVID Cases in Germany, Europe Hit Record Daily High

Europe is once again the epicenter of the pandemic, reports CNN, with the World Health Organization warning of another 500,000 deaths in the continent by February as COVID cases soar, with some 3,600 deaths daily, led by Russia, Ukraine and Romania. Croatia also set a new record for new infections. WHO blamed a combination of insufficient vaccination rates and a relaxation of preventative measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing.

Germany on Thursday registered a record number of COVID-19 cases, breaking a record set in December 2020, reports Deutsche Welle. The country’s disease control agency reported 33,949 new infections in a single day.

The news came a day after Health Minister Jens Spahn declared that Germany was living in a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” and that the fourth wave of the virus was “in full force across the country.”

Spahn warned that those unwilling to get vaccinated could face new restrictions, such as being barred from shops and restaurants.

Only 66.5 per cent of Germans are fully vaccinated, compared to 88 per cent in Portugal, 81 per cent in Spain. Only 33.4 per cent of Romanians are fully vaccinated, according to Reuters coronavirus tracker.

In Canada, about 84 per cent of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated.

—Judy Gerstel


Nov. 4, 2021

U.K. Okays First Antiviral Pill to Successfully Treat COVID-19

Britain today became the first country to grant conditional authorization for a coronavirus antiviral oral medication, although it was not immediately clear how quickly the pill would be available, reports CTV News.

The pill was licensed for adults 18 and older who tested positive for COVID-19 and have at least one risk factor for developing severe disease, such as obesity or heart disease. The drug, known as molnupiravir, is intended to be taken twice a day for five days by people at home with mild to moderate COVID-19.

Molnupiravir is also pending review at regulators in Canada, the U.S., the European Union and elsewhere.

Health Canada said last month that it is working with international counterparts to review the Merck pill, which the company reports can reduce hospitalizations and deaths by half in patients sick with COVID-19.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said Merck first submitted an approval request for molnupiravir as a potential treatment for COVID-19 on Aug. 13.

While other treatments have been cleared to treat COVID-19, including steroids and monoclonal antibodies, those are administered by injection or infusion and are mostly for hospitalized patients.

Meanwhile, Health Canada is also reviewing a new AstraZeneca long-acting antibody combination that could be used to prevent symptomatic COVID-19, reports the Vancouver Sun.

If approved, it would be the first antibody protection of its kind in Canada.

The company says its clinical trials showed the antibody treatment was well tolerated and reduced the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 by 77 per cent compared to a placebo.

The drug is a combination of two long-acting antibodies derived from cells donated by COVID-19 patients. The antibodies would be administered as two injections, one immediately after the other, and could offer up to a year of protection from the virus.

No Vaccine Mandate for Ontario Health-Care Workers

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that, because of concerns over staffing and high immunization rates, his government won’t mandate vaccinations for hospital workers in the province, the Globe and Mail reported.

He said he took into consideration “real-world” evidence, noting that British Columbia has had to cancel surgeries and diagnostic tests because more than 3,000 unvaccinated health-care workers have been placed on unpaid leave. Also on Wednesday, Quebec backtracked on its mandate because of the “significant risk” of losing thousands of health-care workers.

Currently, Ontario hospital workers who aren’t vaccinated must be tested frequently.

However, the Ontario Hospital Association has said 120 of its member hospitals have agreed that the provincial government needs to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for the entire sector’s employees. Some hospitals, including Toronto’s University Health Network and SickKids, have made vaccinations mandatory on their own.

Six of Ontario’s 141 hospital systems have an active COVID-19 outbreak.

Ford said that “having looked at the evidence, our government has decided to maintain its flexible approach by leaving human resourcing decisions up to individual hospitals.”

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, called the decision “a disgrace…So sad” in a tweet.

Vaccine Mandates Coming for 100 million American Workers

The Biden administration announced Thursday that its vaccine requirements applying to private businesses with 100 or more employees, certain health-care workers and federal contractors will take effect Jan. 4, reports CNN.

The rules require employees in those groups to be fully vaccinated, either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, by Jan. 4.

Eighty-four million employees working at large employers and 17 million health-care workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid will be covered by the rules implemented by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The announcement also makes clear that the vaccine rules will pre-empt any state or local laws banning vaccine mandates. Texas and Florida have been among those attempting to pass their own laws to restrict such mandates.

The OSHA rule allows employees to remain unvaccinated if they choose, but they must provide a verified negative test to their employer on at least a weekly basis and must wear face masks in the workplace.

The rule from CMS does not provide a testing option for workers to remain unvaccinated as there is “a higher bar for health care workers given their critical role in ensuring the health and safety of their patients,” according to one official.

Enforcement and penalties for health-care facilities that do not comply could range from monetary penalties, denying the facilities payments and possible termination from the Medicare and Medicaid program.

Ontario, Alberta Okay Booster Shots for Over-70s, Health-Care Workers, Others

Alberta joined Ontario in announcing Wednesday that booster shots would begin to be available in the next few days to people at greater risk of getting COVID-19, according to the Calgary Herald.

Albertans over 70, First Nations, Métis and Inuit people age 18 and over, those who received two doses of a viral vector vaccine — including the AstraZeneca or Jansen — and front-line health-care workers who received their first two doses less than eight weeks apart can start booking third dose appointments as soon as Monday. However, they have to wait six months to get the third jab after their second.

In Ontario, people in many of these categories and others — including designated caregivers for loved ones in nursing homes or other congregate settings — can begin booking booster shots at 8 a.m. Saturday through the provincial appointment booking system, public health units, select pharmacies and through hospitals for their eligible employees, reports the Toronto Star.

In Toronto, 40,000 new COVID-19 booster appointments will be available for booking at five immunization clinics, according to CP24. The new slots are for the next two weeks and will be offered at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Cloverdale Mall, Scarborough Town Centre, Woodbine Mall and Mitchell Field Arena.

Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers Test Positive

The Pittsburgh Penguins say star centre Sidney Crosby has tested positive for COVID-19, reports

The team says Crosby has mild symptoms. Also sidelined after testing positive for COVID is defenceman Brian Dumoulin, who is reportedly asymptomatic.

Though the overwhelming majority of Penguins have been vaccinated, they’ve spent the early portion of the season wrangling with COVID-19. Crosby and Dumoulin are the seventh and eighth Penguins to go into the COVID-19 protocol since training camp opened in September.

All players in the league, with the exception of Tyler Bertuzzi of the Detroit Red Wings, are reportedly fully vaccinated. However, recent outbreaks with San Jose Sharks (seven players plus a coach), as well as minor outbreaks with other teams (Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks) have brought COVID back into the headlines for the NHL.

Also on Wednesday, reported that Green Bay Packers quarterback and NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and won’t play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Rodgers is unvaccinated against COVID-19, which means he is out a minimum 10 days.

As ESPN reports, the 37-year-old petitioned the NFL to have an alternate treatment, which he underwent, that would allow him to be considered the same as someone who received one of the approved vaccinations. After a lengthy debate, the league ruled that Rodgers would not get the same consideration and would be considered unvaccinated.

Study: Covid-19 Virus Does Not Infect Human Brain Cells 

The virus that causes COVID-19 does not infect human brain cells, according to a study published in the journal Cell and by The Guardian. The findings will raise hopes that the damage caused by COVID-19 might be more superficial and reversible than previously feared.

The study contradicts earlier research that suggested the virus infects neurons in the membrane that lines the upper recesses of the nose.

—Judy Gerstel


Nov. 3, 2021

Ontario Okays Boosters for Over-70s, Health-care Workers and Others

Ontario will start offering third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to health-care workers and everyone over the age of 70, starting Saturday morning, reports CP24. Also eligible to book the booster shots as of Saturday are people who received two doses of the Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine or other viral vector/adenovirus vaccines, and all Indigenous Ontarians.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore made the announcement this afternoon.

Current Ontario guidelines allow for all residents of long-term care, First Nations elder-care lodges and retirement homes to get a third dose. Of these eligible groups, 161,000 people, or 65 per cent, had received a third dose by Wednesday.

The new eligibility also includes third shots for many immunocompromised people and others receiving immune system-suppressing drugs.

The widened eligibility this Saturday will now encompass about 1.7 million people over the age of 70, nearly 750,000 people working in health-care, long-term care and other congregate settings and nearly 200,000 Indigenous residents in the province.

It will also include roughly 200,000 people who received two doses of AstraZeneca and those who received the Johnson & Johnson single shot vaccine in the United States and elsewhere.

Everyone in these four groups may receive a third shot no sooner than two months after their second shot.

The plan announced Wednesday calls for booster shot availability for the general public, gradually based on age and risk factors, starting sometime early in 2022.

The third shots of a COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory at this time, and the definition of fully vaccinated is not going to change for provincial mandate purposes.

People will generally be eligible for a third shot no earlier than six months after receipt of their second shot.

Last week, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization said that third doses should also go to anyone who received two doses of the non-mRNA AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as people over 70 and all members of Indigenous communities.

They also said that front line health-care workers who received two doses of any vaccine in relatively short succession at the start of Ontario’s vaccination drive should probably get a third dose as well.

British Columbia has said all residents will receive a third dose by May 2022. 

Air Canada Suspends More Than 800 Unvaccinated Workers

Air Canada has suspended more than 800 employees for not being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in line with federal rules., reports CBC News.

The vast majority of Air Canada’s 27,000 cabin crew, customer service agents and others have received both shots, chief executive Michael Rousseau said Tuesday.

“Our employees have done their part, with now over 96 per cent fully vaccinated,” he said on a conference call with investors. “The employees who are not vaccinated or do not have a medical or other permitted exemption have been put on unpaid leave.”

The layoffs are “across the company,” rather than concentrated in any particular job, spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said.

The proportions align with those at WestJet Airlines, where fewer than four per cent of workers — less than 300 out of 7,300 — are unvaccinated, the company said in an email.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last month that as of Oct. 30, Ottawa would require federally regulated air, rail and shipping companies to establish mandatory vaccination policies for employees.

Kids Ages 5-11 in U.S. Start Lining up for First Dose of Pfizer Vaccine Today

Hours after the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved vaccinations for children ages 5-11 Tuesday evening, millions of American parents are making appointments and bringing kids for COVID-19 vaccinations at drugstores, hospitals and pediatrician offices.

The CDC says 745 children and teenagers under 18 in the U.S. have died of COVID-19.

Children now make up a disproportionate number of new cases in the U.S,, according to a report published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics — accounting for a quarter of all the new cases last week.

Pfizer says its clinical trial showed the vaccine provides 90.7 per cent protection against symptomatic disease among this age group — at one-third the dose of what people 12 years and older get. The company hopes the smaller dose will reduce any potential side-effects.

Health Canada officials are watching the process in the U.S. and attended approval meetings there as Canada makes its own decision about the pediatric vaccine, reports CTV News.

“Those deliberations and the discussions will be inputs into our review as well,” said Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma.

Health Canada received Pfizer-BioNTech’s submission for approval slightly later than the U.S. Federal Drug Administration and Canadian officials are still reviewing it.

Canada will receive enough vaccine doses from Pfizer to allow all children aged five to 11 to get a first dose shortly after Health Canada approves it for that age group, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Oct. 21.

Legal Action Taken Against Four Doctors Regarding Vaccine Exemptions

Ontario’s medical regulator is turning to the courts in an effort to compel four physicians to co-operate with its investigations into their practices regarding COVID-19, including the issuance of medical exemptions for vaccines, reports the Toronto Star today.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has launched legal action with the Superior Court against Dr. Mary Elizabeth O’Connor, Dr. Mark Raymond Trozzi, Dr. Celeste Jean Thirlwell and Dr. Rochagne Kilian.

The regulator last week suspended Kilian’s medical licence, after previously barring her from issuing medical exemptions from COVID-19 vaccines.

Trozzi was also prohibited from issuing vaccine exemptions last month.

The regulator has previously urged doctors to be selective in issuing exemptions to COVID-19 vaccines, noting there are very few legitimate reasons to not get immunized against the virus.

COVID-19 Proteins That Trigger Strokes and Heart Attacks Identified

Israeli scientists have identified the virus proteins that are triggering strokes and heart attacks in COVID-19 patients, in a breakthrough they expect will pave the way for new drugs, The Times of Israel reported today.

The scientists made the discovery by taking a “peek in the virus’s black box,” Dr. Ben Maoz of Tel Aviv University said, explaining that his team analyzed all 29 proteins of the virus to figure out which of them are wreaking havoc in the vascular system.

“Coronavirus isn’t the purely respiratory disease we first thought, and we have identified the proteins that put patients at increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and other problems associated with the vascular system,” Maoz said.

He identified the five proteins in SARS-CoV-2 that lead to vascular problems in the peer-reviewed journal eLife.

“This work could well help scientists to develop drugs to counter the effect of the coronavirus on the vascular system, by providing an understanding of exactly which proteins, or pieces of the virus, are causing problems,” said Maoz.

International Flights to Arrive at More Airports as of Nov. 30 

International air traffic will be returning to eight regional airports at the end of the month after flights were restricted for most of the year as part of the government’s efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic, reports CP24. The airports include Hamilton, Waterloo, Saskatoon, Regina, Victoria, Abbotsford, Kelowna and St. John’s.

This will come just in time for winter flights to warm places in the U.S. and Caribbean and holiday visits.

At a news conference Tuesday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said that “increased vaccination levels have allowed us to safely reopen these additional Canadian airports to international passenger flights.”

About 84 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

As of Nov. 30, all air travellers in Canada must be fully vaccinated in order to board.

—Judy Gerstel


Nov. 2, 2021

Study: Zinc May Prevent, Relieve Respiratory Tract Infections 

McMaster University researchers and colleagues in Australia and the U.S. have found that zinc might be able to prevent and relieve symptoms of respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia and flu, reports CTV News.

The peer-reviewed study was published Monday in BMJ Open.

Zinc’s immune-strengthening properties have attracted the interest of researchers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared against a placebo, the trials showed that zinc supplements prevented five respiratory tract infections in 100 people per month.

Also, zinc was found to be associated with faster recovery. On average, symptoms of respiratory tract infections resolved two days earlier compared to the placebo. Zinc was also associated with “significant reductions” in symptom severity on the third day of illness.

Participants who used zinc products during the first week of illness were also nearly twice as likely to recover compared to those who used a placebo. However, zinc was found to be ineffective when it came to colds, which are caused by rhinovirus infections.

The researchers caution that there remains “considerable uncertainty” regarding the optimal dosage, formulation and administration method of zinc.

In addition, none of the trials specifically looked at COVID-19 patients. “Clarification of the efficacy and mechanism of zinc in viral respiratory infections, including SARS-CoV-2 infections, warrants further research,” the authors wrote.

October Was Deadliest Month of Pandemic in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan recorded 156 COVID-related deaths in October, making it the deadliest month of the pandemic. The previous high was set in January, when 151 deaths were reported.

Epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine told CTV News that many of January’s deaths were “closely associated with outbreaks among vulnerable people in long-term care homes.”

October’s death numbers are more concerning, he said, as they occurred when vaccines were readily accessible.

As of Monday, the province had the highest COVID-19 death rate in the country. For the first time in the pandemic, COVID-19 ICU patients had to be transferred out of province to alleviate pressure on critical care. As of Monday, 26 people were being treated in Ontario.

At the same time, 85.6 per cent of eligible residents had received their first dose and roughly 78 per cent were fully vaccinated.

Kids in U.S. to Receive Vaccine Within Days, Canadian Kids in Weeks

The U.S. could begin giving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to kids aged five to 11 as soon as tomorrow, if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes the recommendation at their meeting today and CDC director Rochelle Walensky approves it.

Millions of the reduced children’s doses have already been distributed around the country awaiting Walensky’s imminent approval, reports Reuters.

While some children may be able to get their first shots as soon as Wednesday, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinate Jeff Zients said at a press briefing Monday that the U.S. pediatric vaccine program will be running at full strength by next week.

In Canada, meanwhile, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch speculated in a tweet that “We are 3-4 weeks away in Canada” from vaccinating 5 to 11-year-olds.

Pandemic Solitude Was Positive Experience for Many, Especially Older Adults

Despite concerns about solitude in older adulthood during the pandemic, adults aged 65-plus reported the most relaxed, least lonely mood when alone.

Time spent alone during the pandemic led to positive effects on well-being across all ages, new research has found.

However, older adults reported their time alone as more peaceful than adults or adolescents. The latter finding aligns well with a body of work suggesting older adults are better at enjoying time alone.

The study of more than 2,000 teenagers and adults, published in Frontiers in Psychology Monday, found that most people experienced benefits from solitude during the early days of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

All age groups experienced positive, as well as negative, effects of being alone. Working age adults recorded the most negative experiences.

“Our paper shows that aspects of solitude, a positive way of describing being alone, is recognised across all ages as providing benefits for our well-being,” said study author and University of Reading psychology professor Dr. Netta Weinstein.

“Seeing working age adults experience disrupted well-being and negative mood may in fact be related to the pandemic reducing our ability to find peaceful solitude.

“It also suggests that certain experiences of solitude are learned or valued increasingly with age, having an effect to reduce the impact of negative elements of loneliness and generally boosting well-being. Equally, it suggests that casual inferences about loneliness based on age and stage miss the reality of our nuanced lived experiences.”

Unvaccinated Public Service Employees in B.C. Face Unpaid Leave as of Nov. 22­ 

Any public service employee who has not received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 22 will be placed on unpaid leave for three months, B.C. health officials say.

Workers who still aren’t vaccinated after that period “may be terminated,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said during a news conference Monday.

Study: Vaccination Following COVID-19 Strengthens Antibodies

A study of nearly 2,000 vaccinated health-care workers, some of whom had contracted COVID-19, has found that those who survived the virus and then received an mRNA vaccine have a higher number of long-lasting antibodies.

The results of the study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine were described in a research letter published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers followed 1,960 health-care workers who had received both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

Of those, 73 had previously tested positive for COVID-19 prior to being vaccinated.

“We found that health-care workers with prior SARS-CoV-2 infection followed by two doses of mRNA vaccine — therefore, three independent exposures to the S1 spike protein — developed higher antibody levels than those with vaccination alone,” study author Dr. Diana Zhong, said in the release. “The relative differences were 14 per cent higher at one month following the second vaccine dose, 19 per cent at three  months and 56 per cent at six months.”

In addition, those who contracted COVID-19 more than 90 days before their first shot had higher antibody levels post-vaccination than those who contracted COVID-19 within 90 days of the first dose.

“This suggests that a longer interval between infection and first vaccine dose may enhance the antibody response,” Milstone said.

Researchers stated in the release that further research is needed to understand “the interplay between natural or vaccine derived immunity.”

—Judy Gerstel


Nov. 1, 2021

New Study: Third Dose of Pfizer Significantly Reduces COVID-19 Severity

The largest real-world study of a third “booster” dose of COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness against severe illness was published Saturday by Israel’s Clalit Research Institute in The Lancet.

Conducted in collaboration with researchers from Harvard University, the examined data on 728,321 individuals in Israel who received a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, compared with 728,321 matched controls who received only two doses at least five months prior. 

The third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduced COVID-19-related hospitalization by 93 per cent, severe COVID-19 disease by 92 per cent and COVID-19-related death by 81 per cent compared with only two doses received at least five months prior. 

The Delta variant was dominant in Israel during the study period, July 30 through Sept. 23.

“These results show convincingly that the third dose of the vaccine is highly effective against severe COVID-19-related outcomes in different age groups and population subgroups, one week after the third dose,” said Ran Balicer, senior author of the study.

COVID-19’s Global Death Toll Tops 5 million in Under 2 Years 

The global death toll from COVID-19 topped five million on Monday, reports CTV News.

Together, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Brazil — all upper-middle- or high-income countries — account for one-eighth of the world’s population but nearly half of all reported deaths. Deaths in Canada have totalled 29,016.

The U.S. alone has recorded over 745,000 lives lost, more than any other nation. The death toll is about equal to the populations of Los Angeles and San Francisco combined.

It rivals the number of people killed in battles among nations since 1950, according to estimates from the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Globally, COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and stroke.

The figure is almost certainly an undercount because of limited testing and people dying at home without medical attention, especially in poorer parts of the world, such as India.

Hot spots have shifted over the 22 months since the outbreak began. Now, the virus is pummelling Russia, Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe. In Ukraine, only 17 per cent of the adult population is fully vaccinated; in Armenia, it’s only seven per cent.

Africa remains the world’s least vaccinated region, with just five per cent of the population of 1.3 billion people fully covered.

Proof of Vaccination Now Required for All Travel in Canada by Air, Rail, Ship

 As of Saturday, anyone 12 or older who plans to travel by plane, train or ship in Canada will have to prove they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The new rules apply to anyone travelling by plane on domestic, trans-border or international flights, and rail passengers on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains. In order to board, all travellers will have had to have received their second dose at least 14 days before their departure date.

According to the Travel Canada website, there will be a “short transition period” lasting until Nov. 29, during which travellers who may be in the process of being vaccinated will have the option to show proof of a valid COVID-19 molecular test instead. That test must be taken within 72 hours of their travel date and rapid tests — also known as antigen tests — will not be accepted.

However, beginning Nov. 30, proof a negative COVID-19 molecular test will no longer be accepted as an alternative to proof of having had the COVID-19 shots.

That means if you cannot prove that you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you will not be allowed to board.

Travel Canada says there will be “very limited exemptions,” with more information in the coming weeks.

No Test Needed for Vaccinated Canadians Crossing U.S. Land Border 

U.S. officials confirmed Friday that a negative COVID-19 test will not be required to enter the country through its land border and ferry terminals, which are scheduled to open on Nov. 8.

When arriving at a land border crossing or a ferry terminal, non-U.S. citizens will only be required to present proof that they are fully vaccinated.

Earlier this month, U.S. officials also confirmed that non-U.S. citizens with mixed vaccine doses would also be accepted. 

While a COVID-19 test won’t be required to enter the U.S., travellers will still need to take a PCR test to cross back into Canada. 

Ontario Study: Parents’ Depression, Anxiety Worse Than in First Wave

According to a new report published Monday and reported in the Toronto Star, detailing results of the second Ontario Parent Survey showed that, in some key areas, parents were worse off this year than last year.

“The overall depressive and anxiety symptoms were higher than our original findings during the first wave,” said lead researcher and associate professor Andrea Gonzalez. 

During the first wave, researchers at McMaster University and the Offord Centre for Child Studies surveyed 7,434 parents and caregivers with children up to age 17. This year, between May 4 and July 3, during the third wave, they surveyed 10,778 respondents.

Last year, 57 per cent of caregivers reported feeling significant depressive symptoms in the previous week, compared with 69 per cent this year. Also last year, 30 per cent reported moderate to high levels of anxiety, compared with 38 per cent this year.

Almost half of parents surveyed this year said they had sought help from a mental health professional and 40 per cent reported needing help at least once during the pandemic, but not getting it.

“We need to get some messaging out about how to help families cope,” said Gonzalez. “Resources are out there, they’re just not easy to find.”

Former Prime Minister Mulroney Says All MPs Should be Vaccinated

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole should show leadership on mandatory vaccinations and show any of his unvaccinated MPs the door, says former prime minister and Conservative party leader Brian Mulroney.

Mulroney said that if he was the leader today, he would require all of his MPs to roll up their sleeves and receive the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it a “no-brainer.”

“Of course. That’s leadership,” he said in an interview Sunday on CTV’s Question Period with host Evan Solomon.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki Has COVID-19, Mild Symptoms

Psaki, 42, said Sunday that that members of her household had tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week.

“Since then, I have quarantined and tested negative (via PCR) for COVID on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday,” Psaki said in a statement. “However, today, I tested positive for COVID.”

She said was last in contact with President Joe Biden on Tuesday, when she met him in the White House, where they were more than 6 feet apart and wearing masks. Biden, who is tested frequently, last tested negative on Saturday, according to the White House.

Psaki did not accompany Biden on his trip abroad to Rome this weekend for the Group of 20 summit and Glasgow, Scotland, on Monday for a U.N. climate summit. Psaki had planned to travel with the president but scrapped the trip just as he was set to depart for Europe after learning that she had been exposed to the disease.

Vax Declared Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year

Lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary said that the shorthand for vaccine had “injected itself into the bloodstream of the English language.”

Vax and vaxx are both accepted spellings but the variant with one  “x” is more common, they said, with usage up by 72 times compared last year, reports The Independent.

The dictionary noted a major surge in words and phrases related to vaccines over the past 12 months, including: “double-vaxxed,” “unvaxxed” and “anti-vaxxer.” Fiona McPherson, senior editor of the OED, said that vax was the clear choice because it had made “the most striking impact”.

“It goes back at least to the 1980s, but … was rarely used until this year,” she said. “When you add to that its versatility in forming other words — vaxxie, vax-a-thon, vaxinista — it became clear that vax was the standout in the crowd.”

—Judy Gerstel


Oct. 29, 2021

NACI Recommends Third Dose for People Over 80

Canada’s national advisory body on vaccines is recommending a third dose a of COVID-19 vaccine for people over 80 and adults living in long-term care.

The recommendations, which the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) released Friday, said the third doses should be administered a minimum of six months after the person’s second dose.

In addition to seniors, they’ve also recommended offering third doses to individuals who are immunocompromised as well as those who haven’t received mRNA vaccines, some front-line health-care workers and adults in First Nation communities.

The committee stressed that these third doses should not be considered a “booster.” Dr. Shelley Deeks, NACI’S chair, explained that the aim would be to provide a third dose to those who “may have somewhat lower responses to their first vaccination.”

“This is not unusual for immunocompromised groups, where we often recommend different vaccine schedules to help them achieve better protection,” she said. “This is different from a booster dose, which would be used to boost an immune response that has waned over time.”

Deeks said that the committee is looking into whether a third dose is needed for other groups but maintained that it was still too early to “comment on the state of the evidence for general boosters at this time.”

Ontario has already made third doses available for seniors and the immunocompromised, while British Columbia is offering boosters to anyone over 18 who received their second dose at least six months prior.

—Andrew Wright

Poll: 69% of Ontario Parents With Kids 5 to 11 Want Them Vaccinated

Nearly 70 per cent of Ontario parents say they’re planning to get their children vaccinated once a COVID-19 vaccine is approved by Health Canada for children aged 5 to 11, reports the Toronto Star. About 20 per cent remain unsure their kids will get the shot, according to a new poll by Forum Research.

Just 10 per cent of survey respondents said they intend to keep their kids aged five to 11 unvaccinated, citing worries over potential side-effects and concerns the paediatric vaccine has not undergone enough research.

The nearly seven in ten who are eager to have their kids vaccinated say their top reasons are to protect them from the virus, to prevent more missed in-person school days and to feel more comfortable doing extracurricular activities and going to public places.

COVID-19 Vaccine Won’t be Mandatory for School in Ontario 

Ontario will not require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school and will not add the vaccine to its list of mandatory immunizations, which includes shots for polio and measles, reports CBC News.

The vaccine will not be integrated into the Immunization of School Pupils Act “at present,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said at a news conference Thursday.

“We have to look at the trends and the ongoing threat of this virus. If it persists season after season and is an ongoing threat, at that point we would review with government.

The province also announced Thursday that capacity limits have been removed for outdoor, organized events such as Remembrance Day ceremonies, Santa Claus parades, fairs, festivals and for outdoor areas of museums and zoos, ski hills and other outdoor recreational facilities. Outdoor social gatherings are still limited to 100 people and outdoor capacity limits at nightclubs remain in place.

As well, Ontario will provide take-home testing kits to all publicly funded schools starting in mid-November, and will increase rapid testing requirements for unvaccinated staff.

Fully Vaccinated 75-year old Dies After Newmarket Hockey Outbreak

A fully vaccinated Ontario man has died after a COVID-19 outbreak swept through his adult hockey league.

Garry Weston died last week after suffering a severe stroke while fighting pneumonia caused by COVID-19, his family says. The 75-year-old contracted the disease in late September while playing in his three-on-three hockey league in Newmarket for the first time in 18 months.

There were 15 COVID-19 cases linked to the hockey league and all were breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people, officials in York Region said.

“My dad was an avid sports person,” Amber Weston-Campbell told CTV News Toronto on Thursday. “He’s been waiting to go back and play because he just loved hockey.”

A few days after playing, Weston-Campbell said her dad started to feel unwell.

“It was like a cold, but it progressively got worse at home,” she said. “He was struggling to breathe.”

Weston was admitted to hospital but wasn’t getting any better. He was transferred to intensive care and not long after that was intubated.

“As they were intubating him, he developed signs and symptoms of a stroke,” Weston-Campbell, who is a registered nurse, said. “They discovered after he had a massive stroke.”

Weston died in hospital on Oct. 21.

Members of Senate Must be Fully Vaccinated to Participate In-Person

If Senators want to participate in Senate proceedings in-person when Parliament resumes, they must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or take a rapid test if they have a medical exemption, CTV News reports.

The agreement, announced on Thursday by Senate Speaker George Furey, becomes effective Nov. 22, the first day of the 44th Parliament

This policy echoes the Board of Internal Economy deciding earlier this month to implement a vaccine mandate requiring anyone entering any buildings in the House of Commons precinct to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Nov. 22.

—Judy Gerstel


Oct. 28, 2021

Study: Antidepressant Greatly Reduces COVID-19 Hospitalization

Researchers at Hamilton’s McMaster University found that the cheap, commonly used antidepressant, fluvoxamine (brand name Luvox), reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk adults, including those age 50 or older, with COVID-19, reports AP News.

The results, published Wednesday in the journal Lancet Global Health, were so strong that independent experts monitoring the study recommended stopping it early because the results were clear.

Researchers tested the pill, which belongs to a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, because it was known to reduce inflammation and looked promising in smaller studies.

The fluvoxamine pills would cost $4 for a course of COVID-19 treatment.

Questions remain about the best dosing, whether lower-risk patients might also benefit and whether the pill should be combined with other treatments.

Past research suggests that fluvoxamine has anti-inflammatory properties, though scientists are still unsure of exactly how it works against COVID-19, said study co-author Edward Mills. The drug may help blunt the out-of-control inflammation that can cause severe disease in COVID-19, he explained.

Other antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), may have similar benefits against COVID-19, but that’s still being studied, he said.

For their trial of fluvoxamine, Mills and his colleagues looked at 1,497 patients in Brazil who had COVID-19, had not been vaccinated against the virus and had at least one known risk factor for severe disease, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or being 50 years old or older. They gave around half the patients fluvoxamine twice a day over 10 days, while the other half received a placebo.

The researchers found that patients who received fluvoxamine were 32 per cent less likely to be hospitalized than those in the placebo group. Among patients who stuck to the regimen closely, there was an even bigger difference — a 66 per cent reduction in hospitalization and 91 per cent reduction in death rates.

“We hope it will lead to a lot of lives saved,” said Mills, a professor of health research methods at McMaster.

Quebec Infectious Disease Specialist Calls for Boosters for all Seniors “ASAP” 

Quebec has been offering a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to all immunocompromised residents since August. And, earlier this month, the province began rolling out booster shots to people in long-term care homes and private seniors’ residences.

But Dr. Karl Weiss, president of Quebec’s association of infectious diseases specialists, believes the province should now offer the shot to all seniors who want it, as soon as possible.

“It should be extended ASAP,” Weiss told the Montreal Gazette in an interview published Wednesday. He noted that examples from around the world have shown the vaccine’s protection begins to wane after six months. “The faster the better, definitely,” he said, about giving the booster to seniors.

Moscow Shuts Down as COVID-19 Infections, Deaths Soar

The Russian capital today started a non-working period intended to reduce coronavirus transmission as new daily cases of COVID-19 in the country rose to an all-time high of 40,096 on Thursday, topping a previous record reached earlier this week, according to CTV News.

The government coronavirus task force reported 1,159 deaths in 24 hours, the largest daily tally since the pandemic began. The country’s official death toll from the pandemic, by far the highest in Europe, now stands at 235,057. (Canada’s death toll from COVID-19 was 28,729 as of Monday.)

As a result of the surge, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered unvaccinated Russians older than 60 to stay home.

He also ordered a non-working period in the country from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, when most state organizations and private businesses are to suspend operations. He encouraged the most affected regions, including Moscow, to start sooner.

Today Moscow shut schools, gyms, entertainment venues and most stores, allowing restaurants and cafés to only provide service for takeout or delivery. Food stores, pharmacies and companies operating key infrastructure remained open.

Access to museums, theaters, concert halls and other venues is limited to people holding digital codes on their smartphones to prove they have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, a practice that will remain in place after Nov. 7.

The government hopes that the non-working period will help curb the spread by keeping most people out of offices and public transportation.

Requirements for Domestic Travellers Toughened in Nova Scotia

Anyone aged 12 and over soon may face self-isolation requirements when entering Nova Scotia depending on their vaccination status, reports SaltWire.

Starting Nov. 1, all domestic travellers over 12 must have their own Nova Scotia Safe Check-in form that reflects their vaccination status, the Health Department said in a news release Wednesday.

“There has been ample opportunity for children 12 and over to get vaccinated,” said chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang in the release. “It’s time to treat them the same as adults in our border policy.”

People who are not fully vaccinated must isolate for at least seven days and get two negative test results in Nova Scotia before they can leave isolation. They must be lab-based tests not rapid tests.

The rules for children under 11 haven’t changed. They will continue to isolate with the least vaccinated adult they are travelling with and follow the same rules.

—Judy Gerstel


Oct. 27, 2021

FDA Endorses Pfizer Vaccine for Kids Aged 5 to 11

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the nation’s children aged five to 11 years old, reports CNN.

The FDA advisory committee voted 17 to 0 with one abstention to back the vaccine for children. Emergency authorization for the vaccine is expected this week. The dose for children is one-third of the adult dose.

The next step is for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s immunization advisers, who are scheduled to meet Nov. 2, to recommend the vaccine. Finally, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will sign off on it and health care providers can begin giving the two-dose regimen, likely as soon as the first week of November.

Meanwhile, Health Canada is continuing to review the submission by Pfizer-BioNTech for the children’s vaccine. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is also reviewing the data and will give its recommendation. Approval could take four to six weeks, suggests Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and former chair of NACI.

Once approved and once the vaccines are delivered to Canada, they’ll be distributed to the provinces and territories, which are then responsible for working with local public health units to get them into kids’ arms.

Quach-Thanh said it would be ideal if kids could get a vaccine dose before Christmas.

Boosters for All British Columbians by May 

Everyone in B.C. will have access to a COVID-19 booster shot in the coming months, the provincial government announced Tuesday and all seniors aged 70 and over will receive their third doses by the end of the year, reports CBC News.

B.C. will be one of the first North American jurisdictions to commit to doing so — and setting a potential precedent for other provinces, according to the Toronto Star. All double-vaccinated British Columbians will be invited to book a third vaccine appointment at least six months after their second dose, starting in January, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday.

Also, between now and the end of the year, the immunization program will continue to provide third doses to people who are immunocompromised, to residents in long-term care and to those in assisted living and rural and remote Indigenous communities. As well, all Indigenous people over the age of 12, long-term home support clients and seniors in independent living and health-care workers who had a short interval between their first and second doses will also have the opportunity to receive a third dose by the end of the year.

Starting in January, third dose availability will expand to clinically vulnerable individuals and health-care workers. From there, the rest of the remaining population will become eligible.

Vaccinated People Have Lower Non-COVID-19 Death Rates

COVID-19 vaccine recipients had lower non-COVID-19 death rates than people who weren’t vaccinated, according to Kaiser Permanente research published recently in the U.S. CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“Despite numerous studies showing the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, some people have remained hesitant to get vaccinated,” said lead author Stanley Xu. “This study provides reassurance that the vaccines are very safe, and, in fact, people who received COVID-19 vaccines in the United States had a lower death rate than those who didn’t, even if you don’t count COVID deaths.”

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine recipients had a mortality rate of 4.2 deaths per 1,000 vaccinated people per year after first dose, and 3.5 deaths after second dose. The unvaccinated comparison group had a mortality rate of 11.1 deaths per 1,000 people per year.

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine recipients had 3.7 deaths per 1,000 people per year after the first dose, and 3.4 deaths after the second dose. The unvaccinated comparison group had a mortality rate of 11.1 deaths per 1,000 people per year.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was not part of the study because it has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

—Judy Gerstel


Oct. 26, 2021

Unvaccinated Kids to be Allowed Into U.S. After Nov. 8

When the United States opens its international borders, including the land border with Canada, on Nov. 8 to vaccinated travellers, unvaccinated children under the age of 18 will be permitted to enter the country, the New York Times reported Monday. Children older than two who are traveling with a fully vaccinated adult will need to show a negative coronavirus test within three days of their departure date. Those traveling alone or with an unvaccinated adult will need to show such a result one day before they travel to the U.S.

As well, starting Nov. 8, adult foreign national air travellers to the U.S. will be required to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane, with only limited exceptions, according to the U.S. State Department. Fully vaccinated air travelers will continue to be required continue to show documentation of a pre-departure negative viral test from a sample taken within three days of travel to the U.S. before boarding.

Cases Down in Canada Everywhere but B.C. 

The number of new cases of COVID-19 has dropped over the last seven days in every province and territory except British Columbia, according to the Globe and Mail. The week-to-week change in B.C. was four per cent higher. In Atlantic Canada, where the greatest week-to-week drop was recorded, there were 50 per cent fewer cases. Ontario recorded a drop of 43 per cent.

Olympians to be Tested Daily

Competitors in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will be tested daily for COVID-19 and will be required to remain in a closed loop that includes transport between the various games venues, organizers said in guidelines released on Monday.

China has some of the world’s strictest measures to control COVID-19 and has already declared that international spectators will not be allowed to enter the country for the Games which will run from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20, reports the Vancouver Sun.

The country has all but shut its borders to international travellers, with the number of international flights drastically reduced from pre-COVID levels. Games organizers said on Monday that domestic and foreign airlines will be encouraged to operate temporary flights available only to participants.

Games participants will need to be tested for COVID-19 before arrival, and athletes and team officials must be vaccinated to avoid 21 days in quarantine, with some exceptions for medical reasons granted on a case-by-case basis.

Five-Month Home Working Plan Could Cost U.K. Economy up to $37.7 Billion 

Leaked documents by the British Treasury have suggested that a return to home working, a key plank of Boris Johnson’s “plan B” proposal to deal with rising COVID-19 cases, would cause up to £18 billion of damage to the U.K. economy over five months, reports the Guardian.

A government source said there was no suggestion restrictions would be that length, if they were introduced at all. Johnson has so far resisted a move to plan B in England, which would also entail more widespread mask-wearing and the extended use of vaccine passports. Instead, the government has said it will focus on ramping up booster jabs for the over-50s and vulnerable adults, as well as vaccines for those age 12 and over.

The documents, leaked to Politico, were drawn up on the basis that a move to plan B would last until March 2022.

A government spokesperson declined to comment on the leak but said, “We knew the coming months would be challenging, which is why we set out our autumn and winter plan last month. Plan B ensures we are ready, should we need to act, to avoid an unsustainable rise in hospitalisations.”

There were 36,567 new people with a confirmed positive test result for coronavirus in the U.K. reported on Monday. Between Oct. 19 and Oct. 25, there were 315,698 people who had a confirmed positive test result. This shows an increase of 2.2 per cent compared to the previous seven days.

—Judy Gerstel


Oct. 25, 2021

Moderna Says Vaccine Response Strong in Kids 6 to Under 12

Massachusetts-based Moderna says its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine showed “robust” immune response in a trial of children aged six to 11.

“We are encouraged by the immunogenicity and safety profile of mRNA-1273 in children aged 6 to under 12 years and are pleased that the study met its primary immunogenicity endpoints,” Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, said in a statement today. “We look forward to filing with regulators globally and remain committed to doing our part to help end the COVID-19 pandemic with a vaccine for adults and children of all ages.”

The trial involved 4,753 participants in the U.S. and Canada who received two 50 microgram doses — half the dose given to adults — spaced 28 days apart.

The company said that a month after the second shot, the results “demonstrate strong immune response,” with “the majority of adverse events mild or moderate in severity,” reporting the most common being fatigue, headache, fever, and injection site pain.

Capacity Limits Ease in Ontario and in B.C., Where Vaccine Mandate Looms for Health-Care Workers

Ontario residents start the week with no capacity limits at gyms, restaurants, bars, casinos — settings that currently require proof of vaccination. And the province dangled the carrot for other businesses, including salons, museums and places of worship, if they check that patrons are fully vaccinated.

In a long-term reopening plan he called “super cautious” when announcing it Friday, Premier Doug Ford said masking requirements will remain in place until March, at which time he plans to remove all remaining COVID restrictions. However, proof of vaccination for public settings could be lifted sooner he said, as early as January.

Meanwhile, in B.C. capacity limits for events, including hockey games, concerts and weddings, were lifted today. Masking and proof of vaccination will still be required.

However, the move does not include parts of the province where vaccination rates are low. In Fraser, Northern and Interior health regions gatherings remain capped at 50 per cent.

And as of tomorrow, the province’s health-care workers need to be fully vaccinated, a move health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said was made to prevent unvaccinated long-term care and asisted-living staff — who were required to have two shots by Oct. 12 — from finding work in other health-care settings.

As the Globe and Mail reports, outbreaks in B.C. long-term care homes during the fourth wave have resulted in 59 resident deaths from COVID-19.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 22, 2021

Pfizer Reports Vaccine More Than 90% Effective in Kids

In documents shared with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer says it’s COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90 per cent effective in preventing infection in children aged five to 11. The FDA is expected to release its assessment of the shots for kids as early as today, reports Forbes.

The regulator’s briefing documents included Pfizer’s results from a trial of about 2,250 children who received either two doses of its vaccine or a placebo, with three fully inoculated children developing COVID-19 as compared to 16 in the placebo group — representing a 90.7 per cent efficacy rate against infection.

The trial showed no safety issues and suggested children aged five to 11 develop the same levels of antibodies as teenagers and young adults who received doses with three-times the strength.

Unvaccinated Still Advised Not to Travel

If you’re weighing the risks of when and where to travel amid the ongoing pandemic, the Government of Canada has lifted its advisory against non-essential travel — in place since March 2020.

The caveat, of course, is that you should be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before departure.

“Be aware that although you are better protected against serious illness if you are vaccinated, you may still be at risk of infection from the virus that causes COVID-19,” reads Canada’s travel advisory webpage.

“If you’re unvaccinated, you remain at increased risk of being infected with and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 when travelling internationally. You should continue avoiding non-essential travel to all destinations.”

Regardless of vaccination status, cruises still remain a no-go with the government advising against all cruise ship travel outside of Canada.

And as the pandemic continues to ebb and flow around the globe, the government says travellers should stay informed and stay tuned.

“The Government of Canada will continue to assess available data and indicators — including the vaccination rate of Canadians, the border test positivity rate, and the epidemiological situation globally and in Canada ― and adjust advice as needed,” read a statement from Health Canada to

Unvaccinated Could Face Reinfection Every 16 Months

A study by Yale Public Health titled “The durability of immunity against reinfection by SARS-CoV-2” predicts that people unvaccinated against COVID-19 could be reinfected every 16 months.

Projections by the researchers suggest that natural immunity to the respiratory illness isn’t long. Three months after first contracting COVID-19, the risk of reinfection is about five per cent. At 17 months, that number rises to 50 per cent.

“Our results are based on average times of waning immunity across multiple infected individuals,” co-author Hayley Hassler told Yale Daily News. “Any one of those individuals may experience longer or shorter durations of immunity depending on immune status, cross-immunity, age, and multiple other factors.”

To get to the 16-month reinfection projection, the researchers used data from other coronaviruses: SARS-CoV-1, MERS.

But, as a National Post report points out, other studies have come up with similar results, including a Danish study that found people under the age of 65 have roughly 80 per cent protection for at least six months, falling to 47 per cent for those over 65.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 21, 2021

Use Your Provincial/Territorial Proof-of-Vaccination to Travel

Canadians are being advised to use their own province or territory’s proof-of-vaccination when travelling abroad.

Currently, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon are using these certificates — which include a scan-able QR code —  designed with what the federal government calls a “common look” featuring the national wordmark, the logo with the word “Canada” and the flag.

Federal officials say they are confident that other countries will accept the “pan-Canadian” standardized certificate, but that work is ongoing to ensure they recognized as Canada’s proof of vaccination card.

Ottawa expects all remaining provinces to start issuing universally accepted credentials within the next month.

Canadians travelling domestically will have to provide that proof ahead of flights, and on trains, starting Nov. 30.

CRB to Expire, New Program Taking Its Place 

The Canada Recovery Benefit, which replaced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) wage support last year, will expire as of Oct. 23, and will be replaced by a targeted benefit that helps individuals whose work is impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a press conference this morning that the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit will go live on Oct. 24 and would provide $300 a week to workers who are subject to a lockdown.

“Temporary lockdowns are still a possibility in the months to come. We want Canadians to know that we intend now to put in place measures that would snap into action immediately,” said Freeland.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the finance minister said the Liberal government is “focused on providing support that responds to current economic conditions.”

And while the Liberal government appears committed to ongoing wage support as the pandemic continues, in a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole urged the PM to end such programs.

“With inflation reaching its highest point since 2003 and the ongoing labour shortages facing businesses from coast-to-coast, Mr. O’Toole asked the prime minister to end the CRB benefits by Nov. 20. The prime minister did not answer,” said the federal Conservatives in a statement following the meeting Wednesday.

As of Oct. 10, the government is reported to have paid out $27 billion to more than 28 million CRB applicants.

4% of LTC Workers Expected to Miss Vaccine Mandate Deadlines in N.B.

New Brunswick residents who work in civil service, education, health care and Crown corporations must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 19 or face unpaid leave. That means they’ve got until Friday to get a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine if they want to make that deadline.

As the CBC reports, almost 9,000 employees in those sectors are not fully vaccinated, and 3,800 in health care and in long-term care haven’t gotten a first dose.

Michael Keating, the interim executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, expects three to four per cent of nursing home workers will miss the deadline.

“So we’re going to go through a short period of time where we’re going to be probably really short of staff,” he told the CBC.

“But we’re still worried that there’s about 10 per cent of our workforce that is going to refuse to get the vaccine, and that’s going to cause no end of problems for us in terms of being able to staff.”

The government announced the vaccinate-or-else mandate earlier this month, after first introducing a vaccinate-or-test policy this past August. People who miss the Nov. 19 deadline will likely go on unpaid leave for 30 days and after that, if they don’t get vaccinated, they could be fired with cause for not meeting employer safety standards.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 20, 2021

Vaccine Mandate for Members of Parliament

When Parliament resumes next month, MPs will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to show up in person at any of the buildings on Parliament Hill, referred to as the House of Commons precinct.

The Board of Internal Economy, a group of Members of Parliament from all parties who set the rules and guidelines for the operation of the House of Commons, came to the decision Tuesday.

In a statement yesterday evening, House Speaker Anthony Rota said the mandatory vaccination policy will take effect Nov. 22 — the date Parliament is set to resume — and will also apply to House of Commons administration, members of the parliamentary press gallery, contractors and anyone else who is on official business on the Hill, which will remain closed to the public at least until next year.

Only those with a medical exemption from being vaccinated will be given the option to provide regular negative COVID tests.

“We have long been in support of a responsible approach to vaccination in the parliamentary precinct,” said a spokesperson for Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez.

As the Toronto Star reports, along with the Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and NDP support mandatory vaccinations and the parties have said all their MPs are fully vaccinated, while Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has refused to say whether all his 118 MPs have been inoculated against COVID-19, and has opposed making vaccination mandatory.

Very Old, Very Sick Still at Risk if Vaccinated

In Italy, where the government has taken the bold move of requiring proof of vaccination — or recent recovery from COVID, or a negative test — of all workers in the country, a study released Wednesday showed that vaccinated people are highly unlikely to die of COVID-19 unless they are very old and already very ill before getting it.

Of the 38,096 COVID deaths in Italy between Feb. 1 and Oct. 5 of this year, 33,620 — 88 per cent — were unvaccinated people, 2,130 had received only a single-dose or were infected shortly after inoculation and 1,440 were fully vaccinated.

The study, which included records from the deaths of 671 vaccinated and 171 unvaccinated people, shows the average age of those who died despite being vaccinated was 85 — and on average they had five underlying illnesses — while the average age of death among unvaccinated was 78, with four pre-existing conditions.

Heart problems, dementia and cancer were all found to be higher in the sample of deaths among those vaccinated.

FDA to Allow Mixed-Dose Booster

After confirming Friday it would allow travellers with mixed-dose COVID-19 vaccines to cross its borders come Nov. 8 — a relief to Canadians — it seems the U.S. is warming up to the idea of a mixed-dose strategy itself.

According to a report by CNN, the US Food and Drug Administration is planning on allowing Americans to receive a different COVID-19 vaccine for their booster shots. While there are no details yet, the FDA is expected to make a broad authorization on “mixing and matching” as soon as this week.

While it could apply to all FDA-authorized vaccines, the priority is expected to be given for those who received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to receive an mRNA dose — Pfizer is the one to be approved as a booster so far, but authorization of Moderna’s booster is expected sooner than later — as their follow-up shot.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 19, 2021

Docs Barred from Issuing Medical Exemptions

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario announced yesterday that it is banning two doctors from issuing medical exemptions to people who don’t want to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Mark Trozzi, who practices near Windsor, and Dr. Rochagne Kilian, of Owen Sound. Under the temporary order, the College has barred barred the two from providing medical exemptions to patients seeking to opt out of receiving their COVID-19 vaccines, mandatory mask requirements or testing for COVID-19. According to a CTV report, two doctors have been outspoken critics of pandemic health restrictions and have spoken openly about their “skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines.” Currently, Ontario’s Ministry of Health website lists only two reasons to justify anyone receiving a medical exemption – if you have had a documented allergic reaction to a component of the vaccine or you have a history of myocarditis. Premier Doug Ford said he will leave it up to the province’s medical governing body to decide on the issue, noting: “The two docs, I guess they got their hands slapped over this.”

Poll: Canadians Distrust Vaccine Exemptions

Amid the controversy around the two doctors, a new poll shows the growing distrust that vaccinated Canadians have toward their unvaccinated counterparts. The ACS-Leger poll, whose findings were reported in National Post today, found that 69 per cent of Canadians who have been vaxxed do not trust the exemptions being issued to people who refuse to get their shots. The poll also found that 74 per cent of Canadians “believe there are legitimate medical exemptions to getting vaccinated” but that most people did not know what those exemptions were. As well, 79 per cent of respondents don’t feel that “there are legitimate religious exemptions for not getting vaccinated.” This suspicion is creating an atmosphere of tension between the two groups, says Jack Jedwab, president and CEO of the Association of Canadian Studies and Metropolis Canada (ACS), which contributed to the poll. “There’s a lot of distrust with regards to the motivation of those people that are refusing to get vaccinated and out there protesting and claiming it’s a rights issue.”

Melbourne Ends Lengthy Lockdown

Melbourne has finally ended its record-long lockdown, and will begin allowing its five million citizens to get out and enjoy the world. Officials from the capital city of the Australian state of Victoria, said that the restrictions will be lifted on Friday, ending 262 days of lockdown, the longest of its kind in the world. “Today is a great day,” said Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews.”Today is a day when Victorians can be proud of what they have achieved.” The decision to lift the restrictions came after the state reached its goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population. While restaurants, bars and businesses will be allowed to open, the number of customers allowed to enter these premises will remain strictly limited. Australia’s “COVID-zero” strategy has seen it escape the worst affects of the pandemic. The country of 25 million people has reported only 1,558 deaths due to virus, a rate of only 60 per million people. In comparison, Canada has a death rate of 748 per million while the U.S. has a death rate of 2,238 per million.

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 18, 2021

Saskatchewan Deals with ICU Nurse Shortage

The government of Saskatchewan is asking other provinces for help as the region gets ready for surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations. With the number of patients in ICU reaching alarming levels, Marlo Pritchard, head of the Saskatchewan’s emergency pandemic command operations, has put out the call for out-of-province health-care workers like nurses and respiratory therapists to help staff hospital units for the coming wave. The province is also preparing to send some of its ICU patients to Ontario, to ease some of the burden on the their hospitals. “We are currently managing a high level of patients in our ICUs, and we’ve been doing that for a number of weeks now, and the priority is to provide the best possible care,” said Derek Miller, of the Saskatchewan Health Authority. On Friday, Saskatchewan reported 312 new cases, with 340 people in hospital and 78 receiving treatment in intensive care.

Daily Death Tolls Rise in Russia

Russia is now the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe as the country’s daily death toll has topped 1,000 for the first time. Russian health officials are acknowledging that they are dealing with a surge of infections, reporting 33,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday, 1,000 more than the previous day. Despite the fact that Russia has developed its own vaccine — Sputnik V — only about 30 per cent of the country’s 150 million inhabitants have fully vaccinated so far. And while cases continue to rise, the country is showing no signs of implementing lockdown or tightening health restrictions or enforcing mask mandates.  All told, over 220,000 Russians have died from the the virus. The country now has the highest death count in Europe and the fifth highest in the world, behind only the U.S. (744,546), Brazil (603,324), India (452,321), and Mexico (284,381). 

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 15, 2021

U.S. Announces Day for Border Reopening

After announcing earlier this week that it would reopen its border crossings to travellers from Mexico and Canada next month, U.S. officials confirmed Friday that it will take effect Nov. 8.

The allowance will apply to fully vaccinated, non-essential travellers at land and ferry crossings, as well as for air travel — up to now, or rather before Nov. 8, Canadians looking to enter the U.S. by plane needed only to supply a negative COVID test, but not proof of vaccination. Moving forward they will need to be fully vaccinated, but no negative test will be required.

“The U.S.’ new travel policy that requires vaccination for foreign national travelers to the United States will begin on Nov 8,” White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz tweeted this morning.

“This announcement and date applies to both international air travel and land travel. This policy is guided by public health, stringent, and consistent.”

Electronic Vaccine Certificate Available for Download in Ontario

With vaccine mandates in place for public settings such as restaurants and gyms for more than a month, Ontario residents can finally download a proof-of-vaccination certificate with a secure QR code today — if they were born between January and April that is.

“To ensure a smooth user experience, the province is initially making the enhanced vaccine certificate with scannable QR code available for download in cohorts based on an individual’s birth month over a period of three days,” according to the Ministry of Health.

Those with birthdays from May to August can download a new vaccine receipt on Saturday, and on Sunday the remainder of residents can get theirs.

“You can also call the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900 to have your enhanced vaccine certificate emailed or mailed to you,” the ministry said.

The app that will be used to verify the new certificates went live yesterday to “ensure the app was available to businesses and organizations in real time tomorrow, the verification app was added to app stores today,” Premier Doug Ford’s office confirmed Thursday.

All this to be ready for the ‘go live’ on Oct. 22.

And how long will the program be in place?

Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said residents — and visitors to Ontario — should expect a “phased exit” from the vaccine passport program sometime next year — if COVID-19 data remains encouraging.

Moderna Booster Gets Nod From FDA

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend emergency use authorization of Moderna’s COVID-19 booster — a half-dose of its 100-milligram vaccine shot.

The 19-member committee all agreed that a third shot — at least six months after the second dose — should be made available to people age 65 and older; people ages 18 to 64 who are at high risk of severe COVID-19; and people ages 18 to 64 whose exposure to the coronavirus in their settings or jobs put them at risk for COVID-19 complications or severe illness.

However, whether the booster is necessary or improves protection is something about which not all members were sure the data supported.

“The data are not perfect but these are extraordinary times and we have to work with imperfect data,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

While Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of paediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, said the country needs every precaution right now. “We can’t afford to have health-care workers, even if not sick, be positive and infected and have to stay home from work because in parts of the country there’s a shortage of health care workers and there’s burnout everywhere.”

The group will continue meeting Friday, with a vote expected on the Johnson & Johnson COVID booster and — of particular importance for Canadians looking to travel to the U.S. — they will be hearing a presentation on mix-and-matching vaccines.

Earlier this month, Moderna submitted an application for emergency use of its COVID-19 booster in Canada, which is still under review by Health Canada.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 14, 2021

Sask. Looking to Ontario for ICU Spots

Saskatchewan had 76 patients with COVID-19 in ICU Wednesday, three shy of the province’s 79-bed capacity. The head of Saskatchewan’s Health Authority is warning that a single mass injury event could push the province to a point where doctors would be forced to choose which critically ill patients they could save.

“We are seeing unprecedented rates of hospitalizations and ICU admissions. This is pushing the system to a place where we are not providing care to non-COVID patients across this province as we should be,” said CEO Scott Livingstone yesterday.

The province is now looking elsewhere for help.

As the Saskatoon Star Phoenix reported, Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency president Marlo Pritchard said it is in “initial discussions” with Ontario about sending them ICU patients. And the office of Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed, stating in an email that “Ontario has sufficient ICU capacity and is committed to assisting Saskatchewan with their COVID-19 emergency response.”

Saskatchewan reported 327 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, and 11 deaths from the illness. In comparison, Ontario — with more than 12 times the population — reported 306 new cases yesterday, and 12 more deaths.

Moe Sees Biggest Drop in Approval

An Angus Reid Institute poll of premiers’ performance released yesterday found that Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s approval rating dipped 18 points since June — around the same time he lifted all COVID restrictions, the first premier to do so. Its now at the lowest during Moe’s tenure, 43 per cent, which means just two-in-five residents say they approve of him.

“Much like neighbouring Alberta, the fourth wave has been rough for Saskatchewan,” read the summary by Angus Reid.

“Vaccination rates in the province are lagging and Premier Scott Moe has been criticized by the opposition NDP for not doing enough to denounce the use of ivermectin – a medication used to deworm livestock — as a COVID-19 treatment.”

Incidentally, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was the only provincial premier to see a lift in approval, albeit only by one point to 36 per cent.

That still leaves Ford with the third lowest approval rating of the 10 provinces, beating out interim Manitoba Premier Kelvin Goertzen (35 per cent) and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, whose approval fell by nine points to 22 per cent — meaning just one-in-five residents approve his performance as premier.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 13, 2021

U.S. Reopening Land Borders to Fully Vaxxed

After extensions month after month since March 2020, the Canada-U.S. border will finally reopen — on both sides — to non-essential travel next month.

“The sigh of relief coming from northern border communities following this announcement is so loud it can practically be heard on either end of the Peace Bridge,” said New York state congressman Brian Higgins in the statement Tuesday evening.

U.S. officials haven’t set a date, but announced yesterday that borders with Mexico and Canada will reopen to fully vaccinated travellers in early November. It’s good news for snowbirds, many of who drive to overwintering destinations.

But what about Canadians with mixed-dose vaccination?

In their announcement, officials noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to recommend that the U.S. recognize air travellers inoculated with any vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, including AstraZeneca — and a similar rule should be expected at land crossings. That’s one hurdle.

And as for people who got two different COVID-19 shots, officials are still waiting on guidance from the CDC as to whether it will recognize them as fully vaxxed.

As Canadians await that ruling, on the plus side there will be no negative COVID test required of fully vaccinated travellers when this new mandate goes into effect.

Winter Tires, the Next Hard-to-Get Item

The supply chain issues that have plagued consumers throughout the pandemic would seem to have snow tires in its sights as the next victim.

“We are recommending customers get in early to get the best selection of tires, as there is uncertainty regarding future supply over the next many months,” Ron Pierce, a regional director at B.C.-based KalTire, told the Toronto Star.

As the Star reports, some American short-track stock car races were cancelled this summer because of tire shortages. Although a poor rubber tree harvest in Southeast Asia isn’t helping matters, supply is being exacerbated by “a combination of COVID restrictions, labour shortages globally, and more COVID outbreaks in some key manufacturing areas of the world,” said Fraser Johnson, a professor of operations management at Western University’s Ivey School of Business.

And when can we expect a resolution?

“I think it’s going to be another year or so, and for some industries, even longer,” said Johnson.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 12, 2021

IMF Downgrades Outlook for Canada, Global Economy

The International Monetary Fund today gave a slight downgrade to its global growth projection for the rest of the year, from 6 to 5.9 per cent, but warned that poorer countries in particular face greater challenges bouncing back from the pandemic.

Their estimates show that while so-called advanced economies could exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2024, developing countries could remain 5.5 per cent below their pre-pandemic forecast.

“These divergences are a consequence of the ‘great vaccine divide’ and large disparities in policy support,” said Gita Gopinath, chief economist at the IMF.

“While over 60 per cent of the population in advanced economies are fully vaccinated and some are now receiving booster shots, about 96 per cent of the population in low-income countries remain unvaccinated,” he said.

The United Nations is also sounding a warning about vaccine disparity as it relates to recovery. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an IMF panel Monday that global solidarity “is missing in action” and people living in conflict-affected and poor countries are suffering most of all.

“Vaccine inequality is a moral outrage that is condemning the world to millions more deaths and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars, hitting the poorest countries hardest of all.”

Guterres said the pandemic has forced more than 100 million people into poverty and left more than four billion people with little or no social support, health care or income protection.

Canada’s economic growth projection for 2021 faced just a 0.6 per cent decrease by the IMF today, down from 5.7 per cent earlier this year.

Unvaxxed Health-Care Workers Face Suspension in Quebec

Roughly 15,000 Quebec health-care workers who are not fully vaccinated will be suspended without pay starting Friday.

Health Minister Christian Dubé has asked all professional orders in the province’s health sector to suspend the licences of workers who aren’t immunized, and in a tweet Monday he welcomed a decision by the Quebec Order of Nurses to follow through on the order.

“I encourage all nurses who haven’t gotten vaccinated to go now,” wrote Dubé. “It’s never too late.”

Among Quebec’s 80,500 nurses, 4,338 are not adequately vaccinated, including 2,807 not vaccinated at all and 1,531 who have had one dose, Luc Mathieu, president of the order told Radio-Canada. And another 5,716 nurses whose vaccine status is yet known could be suspended without pay as of Friday if they have not received two shots.

“They will have to live with the impact of not being vaccinated on time,” said Mathieu.

Quebec’s Collège des médecins is also on side with the order, already saying they will suspend licenses of unvaccinated doctors — practising in-person or remotely. Quebec’s Order of Respiratory Therapists will also be abiding the minister’s order.

“We have no choice but to apply this decree,” Josée Prud’homme, executive director of the order, told Radio-Canada. “As we speak, vaccination is the only scientifically proven way to end this pandemic. We can’t help but agree with the measure.”

Her members, however, have one of the highest vaccination rates in the province’s health-care sector, at 96 per cent, meaning only about 140 therapists would be affected by a suspension order.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 8, 2021

Unemployment Numbers Not Quite Back to Normal

Statistics Canada says the economy added 157,000 jobs in September, bringing employment back to February 2020 levels.

The unemployment rate fell from 7.1 per cent in August to 6.9 per cent — the last time we saw such a large employment gain was this past June, when the economy added 231,000 jobs as the country reopened after the third wave.

But, much like everything else right now, it’s not quite back to normal. As the CBC reports, the number of people working less than half the hours they would normally is still higher — 218,000 people higher — as compared to February 2020. And the total number of hours worked by all employees is still 1.5 per cent below the pre-pandemic level.

And despite the job gains, long-term unemployment — people not having a job for at least 27 weeks in a row, or about six months — is now twice was it was before the pandemic, and represents more than a quarter of everyone without a job.

“In the midst of a mass labour shortage, 27.3 per cent of unemployed Canadians are unaccounted for. Where did they go?” said Leah Nord with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“Canadians want to work; most are not unemployed by choice, so we need to dig down and find out exactly what’s holding them back so we can make evidence-based decisions. Our full economic recovery depends on it.”

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

In a tweet yesterday Cana da’s top doc, Dr. Theresa Tam,  said that as we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, “the need for continued caution remains.” She advised Canadians to abide local public health guidelines as “ongoing regional variation in disease activity” persists.

In New Brunswick, parts of the province go into a two-week circuit breaker lockdown tonight, and the province announced Tuesday that no residents are allowed to gather privately with friends and family from other households — indoors or outdoors — between Friday at 6 p.m. and Monday at midnight.

“We have seen an unprecedented number of deaths, hospitalizations and ICU admissions over the last month — more than at any time since the pandemic began,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, told reporters Wednesday.

“With the health-care system under significant strain and the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, more actions are needed to protect the health and safety of New Brunswickers.”

N.B. officials also clarified on Wednesday that those who live alone can bubble with another household during the holiday weekend.

While in Ontario, where daily case counts continue to drop, officials said yesterday that although success in curbing the fourth wave remains “fragile,” residents can follow Step 3 gathering limits for Thanksgiving: 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

“I think an 86.7 per cent immunization rate in Ontario is what’s allowing that to happen,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore. “I think one of the first questions as you move indoors for Thanksgiving events should be: Is everyone here vaccinated?”

If there is a combination of vaccinated and unvaccinated people in the group, attendees should consider keeping masks on indoors, particularly for older people or those with chronic medical conditions.

Moore’s recommendations also included:

  • No one should attend a gathering if they have even mild symptoms.
  • Windows should be kept open, if possible.
  • High-touch surfaces should be cleaned and hand sanitizer should be provided.
    If there.

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 7, 2021

Pfizer Asks FDA for Approval in 5 to 11-Year-Olds, Health Canada Next

Drug makers Pfizer and BioNTech said Thursday that the they have officially submitted their request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use of their COVID-19 vaccine in children aged five to 11.

If granted emergency use, it would be the first COVID-19 vaccine available to children under the age of 12.

Last month, Pfizer and BioNTech released details of a Phase 2/3 trial that showed a two-dose regimen of the vaccine was safe and generated a “robust” antibody response in children aged five to 11. After their second shot, participants were said to have developed virus-fighting antibody levels as strong as teens and young adults, but with a third the dose.

“Kids have a really great immune system and so respond well to vaccines,” explained Dr. Kawsar Talaat, an investigator on Pfizer’s vaccine trials, in a recent interview with the CBC.

Speaking to Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald, Talaat, an infectious-disease physician and vaccine scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that even though kids tend not to get sick from COVID-19 as frequently or seriously as adults, getting them vaccinated is still crucial.

“There is absolutely a benefit to protecting the kids.,” she said. “There’s also a benefit to society as a whole, because the more people you vaccinate, the less susceptible people the virus will find to replicate in and transmit to other people, and the better control you can get over the pandemic.”

An FDA expert panel will meet on Oct. 26 to publicly debate the evidence.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Canada says it is in the final stages of working with Health Canada ahead of the submission for kids between five and 11 to receive the shot in this country, with the formal application expected to be made by mid-October.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 in May. But children would be given a third the dose as is used for that demo — and in adults. Health Canada, nor the drug makers, have said whether supplies of the vaccine already here can be modified for use in younger children or if we would need to wait for new shipments.

Vaccine Mandates Ramping Up

By November 30, people who want to travel by air, VIA rail, or on say a cruise ship in Canada will need to be fully vaccinated, the federal government announced yesterday.

“Testing will no longer be an option before boarding,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a news conference Wednesday.

“For the vast, vast majority of people, the rules are very simple: To travel, you’ve got to be vaccinated.”

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination will also be required by no later than the end of October for all employees in Canada’s federally regulated workplaces.

“These travel measures, along with mandatory vaccination for federal employees, are some of the strongest in the world,” said Trudeau. “Because when it comes to keeping you and your family safe, when it comes to avoiding lockdowns for everyone, this is no time for half measures.”

Meanwhile, municipal employees were put on notice in Toronto. A statement released yesterday said city workers who do not provide proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19 will be suspended without pay beginning Nov. 1.

Suspension will last six weeks and if staff don’t provide proof of full vaccination by Dec. 13, they will be fired “for cause, as they will have chosen not to comply with the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy,” read the statement.

The release also noted that city officials “will continue to comply with its human rights obligations, and employees who are not able to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine under a protected ground set out in the Ontario Human Rights Code, will be entitled to accommodation.”

—Tara Losinski


Oct. 6, 2021

Good News, for a Change

The World Health Organization is saying their is good news on the global pandemic front, reporting that the number of new COVID-19 cases worldwide fell last week. This continues a downward trend that began in August. The WHO reported yesterday that there were 3.1 million new cases last week, a nine per cent decline from the previous week.

Case numbers fell by about 43 per cent in Africa, 20 per cent in Southeast Asia, 20 per cent in the Middle East and 12 per cent in the Americas. While the number of cases are down, the deaths due to the virus remained roughly the same last week, at about 54,000. The WHO estimates that as of Oct. 3, there have been 4.8 million virus-related deaths worldwide.

The pandemic has killed nearly 28,000 Canadians.

Frustration for Mixed-Dose Travellers

A Canadian travel association is saying that the government must do more to convince other countries to open up their borders to Canadians who have received mixed doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Several countries, including the U.S., are only allowing travellers who have received both doses of an approved vaccine. Unfortunately, the AstraZeneca shot, which at least 1.5 million Canadians received as their first dose, is not on their list of approved vaccines. As well, many countries have adopted the policy of only allowing visitors who have received both doses of an identical vaccine to fly across their borders. This means that close to four million fully vaccinated Canadians who have received mixed doses may not be allowed to fly into the U.S. or other countries.

“The problem we have here in Canada is that we’re one of the few places that have really [mixed vaccines] in any significant way,” says Richard Vanderlubbe, director of Association of Canadian Travel Agencies.

Vanderlubbe asserts that the federal government has an “obligation” to convince other countries that people from here who have received mixed doses are just as safe to travel as those who have received identical doses. If not, there will be a lot of fully vaxxed Canadians forbidden from flying into foreign destinations.

“I’m sure the frustration will rise,  there’s no doubt about it,” he predicted.

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 5, 2021

Cases on the Rise in Manitoba

A top health official in Manitoba is sounding the alarm that the number of new COVID-19 cases in the province could soar by the end of the year.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, told CBC that the province is on a worrisome trajectory with regards to COVID-19 diagnoses — the number of new cases has increased by more than 50 per cent over the last two weeks (from 60 new cases daily to 90) and the positivity rate has risen from 2.3 per cent to 3.7 per cent over the last week.

“We’re in a trajectory right now that could take us to a place where we’ll see quite a significant amount of strain on our health care system, unless we change it,” he said.

Many of the new cases are coming form the Southern Health Region, which also has the province’s lowest vaccination rates. The province is ramping up vaccination efforts in the region as well as imposing limitations on public and private gatherings on those who haven’t received their doses.

Roussin is pleading with Manitobans to “follow these directives, and to do whatever they can to decrease the chances of transmission of this virus, or we are going to be into a very, very significant fourth wave here.”

Study: COVID-19 Is Becoming More Virulent

A new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) reveals that the COVID-19 variants of concern (VOCs) that are spreading throughout Canada are leading to far more hospitalizations and deaths than the original strain.

Looking at data from over 200,000 cases in Ontario between February and June of this year, researchers found that the VOCs were 52 per cent more likely to cause people to go to hospital, 89 per cent more likely to put people in intensive care and 51 per cent more likely to cause death than the original strain.

The author’s interpretation of the results carries a grim warning: “The increasing virulence of SARS-CoV-2 VOCs will lead to a considerably larger, and more deadly, pandemic than would have occurred in the absence of the emergence of VOCs.”

The study also noted that getting your vaccine has never been more important. “The effects reported here represent a substantial degree of protection against death conferred by vaccines (about 80 to 90 per cent), even when they fail to prevent infection”

In a press release announcing the results, Dr. Kirsten Patrick, interim editor-in-chief of the CMAJ, described what the findings mean to individuals and health officials. “The virus has become smarter and more dangerous, which means that we need to be smarter too.”

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 4, 2021

New Case Counts Soar in New Brunswick

New Brunswick health officials are blaming private gatherings on a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in that province. Schools in some areas have been closed as the government reports that there were 140 new cases on Saturday, a single-day record for new cases since the pandemic began.

“In this fourth wave, we have seen a high number of cases sparked from private gatherings,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical health officer. “Limiting those gatherings to 20 as per the mandatory order helps reduce spread and improve our contact tracing.”

Russell pinpointed the kinds of gatherings that are causing the spread of new cases, which she identified as “hunting parties, prayer groups, birthday parties, private funerals and a backyard wedding.” This is worrisome news for the province, which largely avoided the worst effects of the disease during the first three waves of the pandemic. There are currently 45 people in hospital with the disease, 20 in intensive care.

“I know people are tired of COVID, but it doesn’t mean people can take that out on people who are working really hard to protect the public,” warned Russell.

Study Makes Case for Booster Shot 

A new study suggests that the effectiveness of the Pfizer COVID-19 two-dose vaccine may wane after six months, and that recipients may need a booster shot to help them fight off variants of the virus.

Researchers analyzed the blood tests of 56 people who received both doses of the vaccine. In half of the subjects studied, the “neutralizing agents” that are “critically important” in protecting against the virus had disappeared after six months.

“Our study shows vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine induces high levels of neutralizing antibodies against the original vaccine strain, but these levels drop by nearly 10-fold by seven months,” the authors told Reuters.

These findings (which are reported here ahead of peer review) “have raised concerns about the potential lack of durability of immunity to vaccination.” The authors also concluded that “these findings suggest that administering a booster dose at around six to seven months following the initial immunization will likely enhance protection against SARS-CoV-2 and its variants.”

—Peter Muggeridge


Oct. 1, 2021

Ontario Makes Vax Mandatory for LTC Workers

In an effort to avoid another COVID-19 outbreak in nursing and retirement homes, Ontario’s minister of long-term care announced today that all workers and volunteers in provincial long-term care facilities must be fully vaccinated.

“The measure is essential,” said Rod Phillips, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, in a press conference Friday. The vax order will apply to all in-home staff, nurses, personal support workers and volunteers who work in long-term care facilities.

The minister followed up with a statement noting that while 90 per cent of long-term care workers have received at least one dose, “there is variation among homes.” This “variation” means that close to half of homes have vaccination rates below that 90 per cent figure – a threshold that the health minister deemed far too low, especially for those caring for such a vulnerable population.

“We know that long-term care residents have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. As new variants continue to spread, we are seeing a growing number of outbreaks in long-term care homes where the risk to those most vulnerable remains high,” said Phillips, explaining why the province was reversing a previous order that allowed unvaccinated workers and volunteers to submit a test to show that they weren’t carrying the virus.

Long-term care workers have until Nov. 15 to comply with the new order. Those who refuse to get their shots will not be allowed to enter any LTC facility. While the measure doesn’t currently apply to family members or friends visiting loved ones in nursing homes, the health minister didn’t rule out the possibility that, down the road, this too could change.

—Peter Muggeridge

Early Results Show Experimental Pill Cut Severe Outcomes in Half 

New Jersey-based drug maker Merck & Co. said Friday that it will be seeking authorization in the U.S. and elsewhere, soon for its experimental COVID-19 pill.

The company, and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in Florida, said early results showed that hospitalization and death were reduced by about half in patients who’d received their drug, called molnupiravir, within five days of COVID symptoms, as compared to patients who’d received a placebo.

“It exceeded what I thought the drug might be able to do in this clinical trial,” said Dr. Dean Li, vice-president of Merck research. “When you see a 50 per cent reduction in hospitalization or death that’s a substantial clinical impact.”

The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered higher risk for severe disease due to conditions such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. Among patients taking molnupiravir, 7.3 per cent were either hospitalized or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1 per cent of those getting the placebo.

Only limited information on side effects was made public in the press release, but the companies said rates were similar between both groups. An adverse event occurred in 35 per cent of those who received molnupiravir and 40 per cent of those who received placebo. Only 1.3 per cent from the molnupiravir group discontinued the drug because of an adverse event, compared to 3.4 per cent who discontinued placebo.

Earlier results showed the drug did not benefit patients who were already hospitalized with severe disease.

The study results have yet to be peer reviewed.

Kenney Cedes to Help From N.L.

Newfoundland and Labrador will once again be coming to the aid of a fellow province, this time sending ICU staff to Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that an agreement with N.L. is being finalized, which includes the lending of five or six ICU-trained medical staff. The team of five or six ICU-trained medical staff will likely be dispatched to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in Fort McMurray, the premier said.

“As [Premier Andrew Furey] joked with me, Fort McMurray is Newfoundland’s second largest city,” said Kenney. “This is a wonderful gesture from a province whose people have done so much to build prosperity.”

Of course this comes after Kenney had weeks earlier refused the offer.

In a briefing just this Tuesday, Premier Furey said about the deal, “We were moving toward a start date for that … and then last week, Premier Kenney said that the situation had evolved to the point where their predictive modelling would suggest that they wouldn’t require our resources at this time.”

But by Thursday, Kenney had changed his tune, saying, that some hospitals are “under severe stress,” citing low vaccination uptake in the central part of the province.

This will mark the second time N.L. has helped out another province under strain from COVID-19 hospitalizations, having sent two waves of doctors and nurses to Ontario hot spots this past spring.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 30, 2021

Indigenous Groups Lead Manitoba Vax Push 

Alarmed by the low COVID-19 vaccination rates among Innuit, Métis and First Nations people living in Manitoba’s urban centres, the province’s government and Indigenous leaders are combining forces to encourage people to get their shots.

Premier Kelvin Goertzen and David Monias, vice-chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, held a joint press conference Friday to announce that the government will spend $2.8 million to increase the reach of urban vaccination clinics in urban neighbourhoods with low vaccination rates, estimated to be at least 10 per cent lower than other areas.

“A few months ago I said that COVID does not discriminate. I’m here to tell you, I learned a lot from society, it does discriminate,” Monias said. “It discriminates against the weak, against the people who have compromised body immune systems, it discriminates against people who are not vaccinated.”

Premier Goertzen said that the bulk of the money will go toward supporting Indigenous-run clinics in Winnipeg. “This will help ensure another COVID-19 immunization option is available to people who might otherwise face barriers in being immunized at other locations,” he said.

Another $250,000 will go toward funding a mobile immunization clinic that will offer the doses to those living in Winnipeg’s downtown and Point Douglas neighbourhoods.

Manitoba’s health minister Audrey Gordon lauded the efforts of Indigenous leaders, saying “your leadership and partnership has been a cornerstone of success, and has truly kept your people and your communities safe.”

—Peter Muggeridge

Alberta Indigenous Docs Take Their Own Approach at Vaxx Fest

According to the latest figures from Indigenous Services Canada, Alberta has seen the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in First Nations communities, with 11.659 cases — more than a quarter of the total recorded, 40,761.

And it’s been reported that Alberta’s Indigenous communities also have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“There’s many factors that are preventing Indigenous Peoples coming to get their vaccine, and a lot of that is centred in mistrust and previous government policies, which were genocidal in nature,” Cree physician Dr. James Makokis told CTV News Friday.

He and Blackfoot physician Dr. Lana Potts are the organizers of Vaxx Fest, an Indigenous-led vaccination event held this past weekend at the Stoney Nakoda Nation and the Tsuut’ina Nation, both within an hour drive of Calgary.

Potts said the event would be based on what Indigenous teachings call the “Power of 100.”

“The whole idea is really protecting our youth and protecting our future,” she said. “We looked at a concept around our teaching of our buffalo and how when our buffalo face a threat, they will circle their young and face that threat, head on.”

Makokis noted that Indigenous Peoples are keenly aware of the dire outcome past pandemics have had in their communities. “And at the same time,” he said, “we realize our own personal responsibility to work to protect everyone.”

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 29, 2021

Boosters Recommended for All Nursing Home Residents 

On Tuesday, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) released updated guidance in which they note that residents in long-term care, retirement homes and assisted-living facilities, “are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection because of their daily interactions with other residents and staff.” .

“They are also at increased risk for severe disease because of their age and underlying medical conditions.”

As such, the committee has recommended that seniors living in such settings get another shot of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine — Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna — six months after their last shot. A booster dose of a viral vector vaccine, like Oxford-AstraZeneca, is only recommended when Pfizer or Moderna are unavailable or the person can’t have an mRNA vaccine for medical reasons.

This came on the same day that Quebec announced it would offer people in long-term care homes and seniors residences a COVID-19 vaccine booster. The extra dose, which will also be offered to residents of other congregate care settings, is intended to protect people with waning immunity amid a rise of outbreaks in such facilities. Health Minister Christian Dubé said about 220,000 people live in settings where the booster will be available.

“We have about 150 active cases among these people, so it’s very few,” Dubé said yesterday. “The measure is much more preventive than corrective.” At the beginning of the month, there were around 10 cases of COVID-19 in those facilities, he added.

Trudeau Says Vaccine Mandate to Fly Coming by End of October

Anyone still hesitant to travel may welcome comments by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said Tuesday that Canadians have just weeks left to get vaccinated if they want to travel domestically by plane — or train.

The Liberals first announced a plan to require travellers be fully vaccinated back in August, days before the prime minister called an election. Details have been scarce since.

But Tuesday, Trudeau said his No. 1 priority is implementing inoculation requirements, including vaccine mandates for employees of the federal civil service and federally-regulated industries, and the requirement that everyone travelling by air or inter-provincial rail provide proof of vaccination.

“If you want to, or are planning on getting on a plane or a train in the coming weeks or months, make sure that you and all members of your family over 12 years old have gotten vaccinated and are getting your second shot if you haven’t already,” Trudeau said yesterday.

“You will not be able to travel on a plane or a train in Canada if you are not fully vaccinated.”

Prince Edward Island Visitors Will Need to Get Tested

If P.E.I. is your destination anytime after the end of this month, you’ll need to get tested for COVID, twice — regardless of vaccination status or age.

“Now is not the time for discretionary travel,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison Tuesday, after reporting two new cases of COVID-19 — one linked to travel off the island.

Those who travel outside P.E.I., or anyone entering from another province, will be tested upon arrival and between Day 4 and Day 8 after their arrival. Delays at the border entries will be inevitable, Morrison acknowledged, though there may be some exceptions for same-day travel.

School-age children who can’t be tested will be given a self-administered test, and must have a negative result before returning to school.

“We will continue to do everything we can to protect our health-care system here from being overburdened with COVID-19,” Morrison said.

“And when we say this, it means that we want to make sure there’s capacity in the ICU and in P.E.I. hospitals to care not only for COVID-19 patients but to care for your partner, your mother, your loved one if they have an accident or require hospital care.”

—Tara Losinski


Sept.28, 2021

Michael Kovrig Gets First Shot

One of “the two Michaels” got his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a Toronto-area drugstore Monday.

“I want everyone to know this, vaccines are the way to combat this disease,” Kovrig said.

He had spent 1,020 days in a Chinese prison before returning to Canada on Saturday — the Globe and Mail reporting yesterday that it was U.S. President Joe Biden who insisted any deal struck to drop the extradition case against Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou hinged upon the release of Kovrig and fellow Canadian Michale Spavor.

Kovrig is reported to have gotten a standing ovation from staff at the Lawlor Pharmasave on Kingston Road. Pharmacist Kyro Maseh tweeted Monday that he had “the honour” of providing Kovrig with his first COVID-19 vaccine shot.

“He is a man that understands the value of freedom better than most people on this earth. He felt that he must ensure his safety and health so he can heal & enjoy his life,” Maseh said on Twitter.

That Kovrig has only now received a first dose suggests that China has yet to vaccinate its incarcerated population. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that China had not “publicized any plans for targeted vaccinations in prisons.”

Calls Keep Coming for Alberta to Rachet Up Measures

A day after an Alberta former top doc called for a province-wide lockdown to help curb the fourth wave, the president of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dr. Ruth Grimes, and Alberta Board representative, Dr. Raphael Sharon, sent an open letter to Premier Jason Kenney Monday, calling for stronger public health measures to “reduce the suffering of children, youth, and families across the province.”

They are recommending mandatory vaccination for all adults working in schools or child care, or regular testing for those who cannot be vaccinated. And they are asking for masking in those settings for all children over the age of two.

“There are now more active cases being reported in those aged 19 and under than in those over the age of 50,” the letter read. “As adults, we must do everything in our power to protect the health and well-being of Alberta’s children and youth — especially given their continued ineligibility for vaccination.”

The letter also called for the immediate set up of vaccination clinics in schools, and that household contact isolation mandates be reinstated.

Also yesterday, the Alberta Medical Association Section of Intensive Care released its own letter warning of potential outcomes from the strain on the province’s health-care system.

“We remain on the verge of a health system collapse in Alberta,” the letter reads.

The group warn that “equitable” ICU care is under threat, with 1,063 COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals, including a record 265 in ICUs.

“Given the magnitude of disruptions, this very well may have already impacted you or one of your loved ones,” the ICU physicians wrote, saying it’s unclear how much longer surgeries, for example, would be postponed by the fourth wave.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 27, 2021

Biden Gets Pfizer Booster

On Monday, just days after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention okayed booster shots for millions of Americans, President Joe Biden received his COVID-19 vaccine booster.

“We know that to beat this pandemic and to save lives … we need to get folks vaccinated,” Biden said ahead of his third shot this afternoon at the White House. “So, please, please do the right thing. Please get these shots. It can save your life and it can save the lives of those around you.”

The 78-year-old president said his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, would also be getting a booster, soon. Being “way over” 65, as the president joked, he is eligible for a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — the only one yet approved for a booster dose in the U.S.

“The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing. Over 77 per cent of adults have gotten at least one shot. About 23 per cent haven’t gotten any shots, and that distinct minority is causing an awful lot of us an awful lot of damage for the rest of the country,” Biden went on to say.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. That’s why I’m moving forward with vaccination requirements wherever I can.”

Earlier this month the president announced an order that requires employers with more than 100 workers to mandate immunizations or offer weekly testing, affecting as many as 100 million Americans.

Tensions High Between Vaxxed and Unvaxxed, New Poll Suggests

A new poll by Leger for the Association of Canadian Studies suggests tensions are high between Canadians who have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine and those who have not.

“There’s a high level of I would say antipathy or animosity toward people who are unvaccinated at this time,” said the association’s president Jack Jedwab .

“What you are seeing is the tension played out among family members and friends, co-workers, where there are relationships between people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated.”

The online poll surveyed 1,549 Canadians between Sept. 10 and 12, with results showing more than three in four respondents hold negative views of people who are not immunized against the coronavirus.

The survey found that vaccinated people consider the unvaccinated irresponsible and selfish. While unvaccinated respondents justify their personal reasons for not being immunized, but will reject others’ decision to follow the same course, noted Jedwab.

The vast majority of Canadians eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, 87 per cent as of Monday morning, have gotten at least one dose according to figures from COVID-19 Tracker Canada.

Kenney Says No to Lockdown Amid Fourth-Wave Surge

After two doctors in Alberta — one who was the chief medical officer of health for the province from 2012 to 2015 — called for a province-wide “fire break” lockdown on Sunday, Premier Jason Kenney said no to such a measure.

In a radio interview later the same day, Kenney said a “hard lockdown” would make “no sense for the 80 per cent of the population that is vaccinated,” and who he said are much less likely to transmit COVID-19 and are far less likely to be hospitalized. The premier said the roughly 20 per cent of Albertans who remain unvaccinated are the reason for the fourth-wave surge in cases, adding that they are also less likely to follow restrictions recommended by public health to help curb spread.

But in a letter to the province’s Health Minister Jason Copping, Dr. Dr. Noel Gibney — a critical-care specialist and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta — and Dr. James Talbot — Alberta’s former top doc — said measures including a lockdown are needed to address the “crushing COVID-19 burden being borne by Alberta and Alberta Health Services.”

“All Albertans have and do depend on our acute-care hospitals. We are within days of being forced to implement a triage protocol which will force health-care workers to make life and death decisions on who will get scarce resources, like ventilators,” they wrote.

As of Sunday, Alberta had 20,040 active cases of COVID-19 — more than three times that of any other jurisdiction in Canada. And the province’s ICU capacity was at 82 per cent, with 302 patients in the province’s 368 available ICU beds — the majority of whom have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The president of the Alberta Health Service, Dr. Verna You, offered a sombre silver lining last week. “It’s tragic that we are only able to keep pace with these sort of numbers because, in part, some of our ICU patients have passed away,” she said Thursday. “This reality has a deep and lasting impact on our ICU teams.”

In the last seven days, Alberta reported 99 deaths from COVID-19 — nearly twice as many as Ontario, which has more than three times the population, and on Monday reported no new deaths related to the illness.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 24, 2021

CDC Approves COVID Booster

COVID-19 vaccine boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech can officially begin being administered in the United States after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today approved recommendations made by its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Thursday.

The agency has recommended boosters for people considered vulnerable to severe outcomes, including people aged 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities, certain people with underlying medical conditions. But another group — voted against being added by the ACIP yesterday — was also included in the CDC’s guidance: people aged 18 to 64 who are at increased risk of COVID-19 because of their workplaces or institutional settings.

But adding that last group does align with recommendations made on Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration — another agency that weighed in on the decision.

“As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact. At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health. In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good,” Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement this morning.

So far the ACIP has reviewed a request for approval of a booster only from Pfizer, Walensky noted, but she said: the CDC “will address, with the same sense of urgency, recommendations for the Moderna and J&J vaccines as soon as those data are available.”

Earlier this week, Johnson & Johnson announced results from a study that showed a two-dose version of its Janssen COVID-19 vaccine provides 94 per cent protection against symptomatic infection — comparable to two doses of Moderna or Pfizer.

Sober Stats for Unvaxxed From Alberta’s Top Doc

“One hundred per cent of new ICU admissions were in Albertans who did not have any vaccine protection,” the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. said in Thursday’s COVID-19 update.

All of Alberta’s recent COVID-19 ICU admissions, and the majority of deaths reported in the province this week, had no vaccine protection she noted. As of Thursday, 1,058 people were in hospital, with 226 being treated for COVID-19 in ICUs — admissions for which are now the highest the province has seen during the pandemic.

And Hinshaw noted more sober stats for unvaccinated residents.

“Albertans who have not been vaccinated are about 15 times more likely than those with vaccine protection to end up in the hospital from COVID-19,” she said.

“They are about 40 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU. About 77 per cent of Albertans in hospital with COVID-19 are not fully vaccinated and 92 per cent of those in the ICU right now have not had both shots.”

And addressing questions about whether people who have been infected still need to get get immunized, Hinshaw said, “The bottom line is that my advice for those who have had COVID-19 remains the same: it is still best for everyone to be fully vaccinated with two doses to obtain the greatest possible protection against infection.”

Case Linked to Kingston, Ont. Polling Station

At lest one new case of COVID-19 in Ontario has been linked to a polling station in Kingston during Monday’s federal election.

On Thursday, health officials were asking anyone who attended the St. Luke’s Anglican Church polling station between 9 p.m. and midnight on Monday to monitor for signs of illness after a positive case was linked to the site.

The health unit also says it will do contact tracing to alert close contacts of the person infected.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 23, 2021

COVID-19 Now Deadliest Pandemic in U.S. History

On Monday, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 officially passed the number of those who died during the Spanish flu outbreaks in 1918-19, making it the deadliest pandemic in American history.

The Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that the number of fatalities due to COVID-19 is now 677,000, surpassing the 675,000 who perished in the three waves of Spanish flu that decimated the country following the First World War.

“The reality is we have no historical precedent for the moment we’re in now,” Dr. Howard Markel, a physician and medical historian at the University of Michigan, told CNBC. “This is the pandemic I will be studying and teaching to the next generation of doctors and public-health students,”

While the U.S. death toll will continue to rise, right now they’re averaging 1,900 fatalities a day, the global picture looks somewhat rosier. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.7 million people have succumbed to the virus worldwide, while the CDC estimates that the 1918 epidemic  killed as many as 50 million. “We know that all pandemics come to an end,” Dr. Jeremy Brown, director of emergency care research at the National Institutes of Health, told Time. “They can do terrible things while they’re raging.”

Study: Moderna Vax Tops Pfizer’s for Long-Term Protection

A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine may provide better long-term protection against virus-related hospitalizations than Pfizer’s.

Released last Friday, the CDC study concludes that Moderna’s vaccine was 93 per cent effective in preventing hospitalization up to four months after receiving it. Even after four months, Moderna’s protection against the worst effects of the virus remained strong — it was still 92 per cent effective in helping recipients avoid a hospital visit.

The results also showed that Moderna’s vaccine scored higher marks for long-term efficiency than any of the doses approved in the U.S., including Pfizer’s. While the study showed that Pfizer’s vaccine worked well in the first 120 days, its effectiveness began to wane over time. In the first four months after receiving it, the Pfizer vaccine was  91 per cent effective in preventing hospitalizations. But after four months, its effectiveness “declined significantly” to 77 per cent.

The study’s authors wrote that differences between the two vaccines “might be due to higher mRNA content in the Moderna vaccine, differences in timing between doses (three weeks for Pfizer-BioNTech versus four weeks for Moderna), or possible differences between groups that received each vaccine that were not accounted for in the analysis.”

Despite the findings, the authors said that while there may be “some variation in levels of protection by vaccine,” each of the vaccines approved for use in the U.S. “provide substantial protection against COVID-19 hospitalization.”

The study was conducted among 3,689 adults over the age of 18 who were hospitalized at 21 U.S. hospitals between March and August, 2021.

Pandemic to End Next Year?

With the grim news out of the U.S. and hospitalizations from the latest wave of the virus soaring to record levels in Alberta, The CEO of Moderna is sounding a hopeful note.

Yesterday,  Stéphane Bancel said that he believes the pandemic will be over in a year’s time. In an interview with Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung,  Bancel said that in the upcoming year, vaccine makers will be able to produce “enough doses should be available by the middle of next year so that everyone on this earth can be vaccinated.” He also suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine will eventually become part of our lives, comparing it to the annual flu shot.

“We will end up in a situation similar to that of the flu,” he said. “You can either get vaccinated and have a good winter. Or you don’t do it and risk getting sick and possibly even ending up in hospital.”

Bancel also predicted that governments would begin offering a booster shot to patients who were vaccinated in the early part of the year.

Peter Muggeridge


Sept. 22, 2021

Ontario Passport Program Goes Into Effect

Starting today, residents in Ontario must show their paper proof-of-vaccination record to enter indoor businesses considered high-risk for COVID transmission, including bars, restaurants, gyms, theatres, banquet halls and sports venues.

Premier Doug Ford, who had dug in his heels on implementing a vaccine passport until relenting in August, said Tuesday that although he appreciates that some people are concerned about the program, it is needed to avoid another lockdown.

“I understand your concerns about protecting your civil liberties and right to privacy.,” Ford said in a statement. “While many fully vaccinated people share these concerns, the greater concern is having to shut down again or experience a sudden surge in cases like in Alberta or Saskatchewan.”

As a Ministry of Health guidance document states that a “business or organization shall not retain any information provided by a patron,” however, two fitness chains have told the Toronto Star that although they will employ the proof of vaccination requirement, they plan to flout the rules, keeping a record of the initial check with members so they don’t need to show proof each time they arrive.

Meanwhile, other Ontario businesses have warned that the initial, paper-based phase of the program will be cumbersome for them to employ. “When you are seating a lot of people and you’ve got a busy place, the last thing you want is to keep people waiting in line like they’re at the bank,” Erik Joyal, president of Toronto’s Ascari Hospitality Group and a founder of Save Hospitality, told the Globe and Mail.

The province is still working on developing and testing a system that will create vaccine certificates with scannable QR codes, along with a smartphone app for businesses to verify the code, supposed to launch Oct. 22. Residents, however, can continue to use their paper receipts if they choose after a digital system is launched.

Vaccinated Feel Better Than Unvaccinated, But Not by Much

The eight, and latest, poll from Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) since the beginning of the pandemic shows that unvaccinated people reported more symptoms of mental distress, as well as higher levels of anxiety and depression, compared to vaccinated people.

Unvaccinated respondents reported high levels of anxiety — 31 per cent as compared to 22 per cent of vaccinated people, and high levels of depression — 24 per cent as compared to 14 per cent of the vaccinated.

Also, 49 per cent of unvaccinated respondents reported severe mental distress symptoms, as compared to 36 per cent of vaccinated people.

And, with vaccine passport programs going into effect across the country, it’s perhaps not surprising that 28 per cent of unvaccinated people indicated that pandemic-related restrictions will impact their mental health in coming months, as compared to 12 per cent of vaccinated people.

However, as the poll’s summary points out, even with the vast majority of Canadians now double vaccinated, levels of self-rated anxiety and depression have not decreased. And vaccinated Canadians still have more worry about the ongoing threat of the coronavirus — 75 per cent as compared to 38 per cent of the unvaccinated.

And, it would appear Ontario has passed the pandemic worry torch to Alberta, now with the highest proportion of people in Canada feeling high levels of anxiety, 31 per cent, which is close to levels seen in Ontario this past April, 33 per cent, whereas now 26 per cent of Ontarians report high anxiety.

Michael Cooper, vice-president of development at MHRC, suggests Albertans are responding to the abrupt easing of restrictions this past summer, and the current surge in case counts.

“There’s this cognitive dissonance going on where you know that case counts are going up, you know there’s an increasing threat, but no one has stepped forward to say, ‘This is how we’re going to deal with it,’” Cooper told the Toronto Star, adding that the vacuum in leadership has led some Albertans to feel more anxious.

Good News From the WHO

There is good news from the World Health Organization: the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall globally, with 3.6 million new cases reported last week, down from 4 million the previous week.

The WHO said the most decrease in new cases is happening in the Middle East, down 22 per cent, and in Southeast Asia, down 16 per cent.

The agency also reported a seven per cent decline in deaths in the past week. But while Southeast Asia reported a 30 per cent decrease in COVID-19 deaths, the Western Pacific region reported a seven per cent increase.

The most coronavirus cases are seen in the U.S., India, Britain, Turkey and the Philippines. Earlier this week, deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus surpassed those from the 1918 flu estimates — more than 675,000.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 21, 2021

U.S. Extends Non-Essential Travel Land Border Ban

As the U.S. announced Monday that it is loosening restrictions on foreign travellers, allowing in fully vaxxed visitors from any country starting in November, it extended, by another month, land border closures with Canada and Mexico.

That brings the ban on non-essential travel across border crossings to at least Oct. 21 — getting close to when Canadians snowbirds would normally start heading south for winter. In reporting the latest extension yesterday, the Canadian Snowbird Association said it has been “engaging” with U.S. officials to safely reopen the land border “as soon as possible,” pointing out that it “is an advocacy priority as over 70% of Canadian snowbirds travel to the United States with their Canadian vehicles and we recognize the importance and urgency of this issue.”

And it’s not just about logistics, money is at stake. To Florida alone, Canadian snowbirds are reported to contribute $6.5 billion to the economy each year.

Closer to home, representing Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York Congressman Brian Higgins has repeatedly called for the reopening of the border.

“It is welcome news that the White House is making progress on reciprocating international public health measures to protect air travellers,” wrote Higgins in a statement yesterday, going on the say.

“It is inexplicable that no announcement on easing travel restrictions at land ports of entry is being made today since the livelihoods of communities across the northern border depend on cross-border commerce.”

Proof of Vaccination Going Into Effect at Long-Term Care Homes in N.B.

Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 will be required to enter a long-term care facility in New Brunswick as of midnight tonight. This comes a day after the province reported 75 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday — its highest single-day count of the pandemic.

According to tracking by the National Institute on Ageing, New Brunswick has seen outbreaks in 18 LTC facilities over the course of the pandemic, with 183 cases among residents and 25 deaths, while 125 staff infections have been recorded and 23 staff have died from the virus.

Proof of vaccination will also be required to enter recreational buildings as of midnight, and the province has re-introduced masking for public indoor spaces — including businesses, places of worship and restaurants — which also goes into effect tonight.

Pfizer Canada to Proceed With “Urgency” in Approval of Vaccine for Kids

A day after its parent company announced it had found “robust antibody response” in a trial of its COVID-19 vaccine in kids aged five to 11, Pfizer Canada says it plans to provide Health Canada with data in a bid to seek authorization “as early as possible.”

The company’s director of corporate affairs in Canada, Christina Antoniou, said they “share the urgency” to provide data that could lead to a shot for the remainder of school-age children.

Findings from this latest trial have yet to be peer reviewed or published, and neither Antoniou nor Health Canada would say when exactly the data will be submitted for approval review.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 20, 2021

Pfizer to Seek Authorization for Vaccine Use in 5 to 11-Year-Olds

Pfizer and BioNTech today announced that their COVID-19 vaccine showed a “favorable safety profile and robust neutralizing antibody response” in a Phase 2/3 trial in children aged five to 11.

“Over the past nine months, hundreds of millions of people ages 12 and older from around the world have received our COVID-19 vaccine. We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the Delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer, said in a statement.

The companies reported that efficacy among the trial’s 4,500 participants was 95 per cent, similar as was found in trial participants aged 16 to 25, and its original findings for overall efficacy in adults 18 and older.

But the dose, 10 µg, is a third of what was used in older cohorts, 30 µg, including participants aged 12 and older, with the companies saying that the dose “was carefully selected as the preferred dose for safety, tolerability and immunogenicity in children 5 to 11 years of age.”

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been linked to rare cases of heart inflammation in adolescents and young adults, particularly young men, but Pfizer and BioNTech said they did not see any instances of the condition in this trial.

The companies say they plan to submit requests for authorization to regulatory agencies around the world “as soon as possible.”

They also stated that results from trials in children under five years of age are expected as soon as later this year.

Alberta’s “Restrictions Exemption” Program Goes Into Effect

Alberta’s version of a vaccine passport, called a “restrictions exemption program” went into effect Monday. It allows businesses and venues to operate without capacity limits and other public health measures if they require proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test result, from anyone entering.

The program applies to restaurants, nightclubs, casinos, concerts and fitness facilities, but is not mandatory. This weekend, retail stores and libraries were taken off the list of venues who will have the option of asking for proof of vaccination to exempt themselves from public health restrictions.

Residents were able to apply for proof of vaccination cards as of yesterday, but as Global News reported, health ministry spokeswoman Amanda Krumins acknowledged in an email Sunday that “a motivated individual” can edit the PDF that is currently provided, but that “work continues on a more secure QR code that will be available in the coming weeks.”

Premier Jason Kenney, who has been a strong opponent of vaccine passports, said last week that the measure was now necessary to protect the province’s hospital system. Alberta declared a health emergency last week, on Thursday postponing all non-emergency surgeries to free up space, and staff, for makeshift ICUs to treat patients with COVID-19.

Alberta Health Services’s chief executive officer, Dr. Verna Yiu, said on Thursday that the province was seeing its sharpest rise in ICU admissions of the pandemic, with 18 to 20 new patients every day. “There are more rough days ahead,” Yiu said.

B.C. Mandates Vaccine for LTC Workers, After 4th-Wave Outbreaks Claim More Residents’ Lives

Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is warning British Columbia residents of a tough fall and winter. “I think we are going to get through this but end up in a place where we’re living with the virus in a much-less invasive way so it doesn’t impact the health care system,” Henry told the Globe and Mail this weekend. “But it’s still going to cause serious illness in some people for the next couple of years.”

She says that herd immunity won’t be achieved until well over 90 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. And that would seem to require inoculation mandates that officials had been trying to avoid.

As the Globe and Mail reports, there have been several outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the province since August, and government tracking shows that 37 people have died from COVID in facilities where outbreaks remain active.

But it wasn’t until last week that the province moved from a vaccinate-or-educate to a must-be-vaccinated policy for workers in LTC.

Henry said an education campaign was used to help persuade hesitant employees, but admitted it failed.

“I had hoped early on that given the level of protection the vaccines gave residents, it might be enough to ward off [breakthrough infections] but it was not sufficient,” she said.

A mandate requiring all LTC workers to have at least one shot went into effect Sept. 13, with two shots required as of next month.

—Tara Losinski


Sept. 17, 2021

860 people have died of COVID-19 in Ontario hospital outbreaks

At least 860 people have died of COVID-19 in Ontario hospital outbreaks, according to a new public health report that reveals a much greater death toll than had been previously known, reports the Toronto Star.

The total means Ontario hospitals have been the province’s second-deadliest setting for COVID-19 outbreaks in the pandemic, behind long-term-care homes and ahead of retirement homes.

“There’s no other way to depict this other than a completely unmitigated tragedy,” Toronto infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told the Star.

In recent months, Ontario’s public health officials have defended the province’s hospital safety protocols against criticism that they have not been changed to reflect growing evidence of COVID’s airborne risk.

 British Columbia not able to help Alberta, Ontario is willing

 Alberta is considering transferring ICU patients to other provinces as the fourth wave puts its health-care system under “extreme pressure,” reports CTV News.

Ontario has accepted to take on Alberta patients if needed, and Alberta Health Services is also in conversations with British Columbia and Manitoba, president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu told reporters on Thursday. However, in a statement to CTV News, B.C. told Alberta it will not be able to help them “given the current demands” on its healthcare system right now.

Dr. Yiu stressed that Alberta hopes it does not get to that point but added: “We do not have the ability to simply open more and more ICU spaces and hospital beds and we do not have an endless number of staff who can provide critical care.”

Alberta currently has 310 ICU beds. Dr. Yiu said. Eighty-six per cent of beds are occupied — largely by COVID-19 patients.

A Vaccine by Any Other Name is … Still the Same Vaccine

Health Canada announced in a tweet Thursday that, along with full approval for the vaccines,  it has authorized brand name changes for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will now be named Comirnaty, the Moderna vaccine will be named Spikevax and the AstraZeneca vaccine will be named Vaxzevria. These are only name changes, Health Canada emphasized. There are no changes to the vaccines themselves.

Comments on Twitter ranged from “confusing,” “unnecessary,” and “they’ll still be called Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.”

FDA Meets to Discuss Whether Booster Shots Are Necessary

 Vaccine advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration are meeting today to discuss whether Americans need to start getting booster doses of coronavirus vaccine, reports CNN.

The meeting, which will be streamed online, is expected to last until 4:45 p.m. EDT or later, with a period for discussion and vote scheduled to start at 2:25 p.m.

The data being presented by Pfizer involves a booster given to its volunteers about six months after they finished their first two doses.

Pfizer — and other researchers — say their studies show people develop strong immunity after two doses of vaccine, but that levels of antibodies start to drop after a few months. The FDA notes that Pfizer’s vaccine — as well as vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson still provide strong protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death, even if antibodies do wane over time.

The question will be whether it’s time to start approving boosters now and if so, who should get them and when.

The White House has said it’s planning to be ready to start giving booster doses of vaccines Sept. 20, pending sign off from the FDA and CDC.

The CDC has scheduled a meeting of its vaccine advisers for Sept. 22 and 23.

As is the case in Canada, third doses are already approved for certain immunocompromised people, but not for the general public.

 Idaho Allows Rationing of Medical Care

 Idaho activated “crisis standards of care” Thursday as hospitals swamped by the state’s latest surge of COVID-19 no longer have enough resources to adequately treat patients, reports the Washington Post.

The state is second only to West Virginia for the largest per capita increase in current inpatients in the past week.

“The situation is dire,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare director Dave Jeppesen said in a statement. “We don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident.”

While not all hospitals may need to take these “last resort” measures, crisis standards of care allow them to prioritize — or potentially even deny care — when faced with a shortage of resources such as ventilators, drugs and staff, based on who they think will benefit the most.

“In other words, someone who is otherwise healthy and would recover more rapidly may get treated or have access to a ventilator before someone who is not likely to recover,” the Department of Health and Welfare said.

Unvaccinated Nurses Bring Heart Procedures to Standstill in Australian Hospital

A dozen top cardiologists in Sydney were forced into isolation and multiple urgent heart procedures cancelled after two unvaccinated nurses worked while infectious with COVID-19 at a major hospital, the Sydney Morning Herald reported today.

Critical procedures, including angiograms, pacemakers, stent and valve replacements, were called off at St. Vincent’s Hospital last week after the nurses worked shifts across at least four cardiac wards.

One senior interventional cardiologist, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the issue, said cardiac procedures were brought to a standstill and wait times for operations such as pacemaker surgery had “blown out” with dozens of patients facing weeks-long delays.

The hospital’s cardiac “cath labs” were closed for at least four days for deep cleaning, with about 30 doctors and nurses identified as close contacts, some plunged into two-week isolation, the doctor said.

One doctor at the hospital said there was concern about “a small group of nurses (at the hospital) who have not wanted to be vaccinated”.

A vaccine mandate for healthcare workers comes into effect on Sept. 30.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 16, 2021

Alberta’s Premier Apologizes as State of Emergency Declared 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday introduced rigorous new measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, reports CBC News. They include the requirement to show proof of vaccination or negative test results in order to enter participating businesses and events.

Most dramatically, he admitted that the province’s decision in spring to deal with COVID-19 as endemic — and not as serious as a pandemic — was a mistake.

“It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize,” Kenney said.

Alberta has declared a state of public health emergency and is taking immediate action to stave off the ongoing crisis in the health-care system, the premier said. “To prevent an ongoing crisis, we must do three things urgently.”

“First, we must maximize our health-care capacity. Secondly, reduce transmission of the virus by reducing interaction with other people. And thirdly, we have to get as many people as possible vaccinated.”

Without interventions, Kenney said, Alberta hospitals may run out of staff and intensive care beds within the next 10 days.

The new measures to be introduced include restrictions on restaurants, indoor gatherings, weddings and funerals, retail, entertainment venues, and indoor sport and fitness. Some of the new measures begin today, including a mandate for working from home unless an employer determines a physical presence is required.

Alberta reported 1,609 new cases of COVID-19 and 24 new deaths Wednesday, the highest number of deaths reported in one day in the province’s fourth wave.

Earliest Moderna Vaccine Recipients Twice as Likely to Get Breakthrough Infection 

Moderna says people who received its COVID-19  vaccine last year are nearly twice as likely to get a breakthrough infection compared to those recently vaccinated, reports the Daily Mail.

Breakthrough cases occur when people contract the disease 14 days or more after receiving their final dose of the shot.

New data published on Wednesday shows there is a 36 per cent reduced protection for those who received their first dose 13 months ago, compared to those given their initial shot eight months ago.

There were 88 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among out of 11,431 Americans vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021.

Comparatively, there were 162 cases — 1.8 times as many — out of 14,746 trial participants vaccinated between July 2020 and December 2020.

Moderna also reported 13 severe cases among the early vaccination group, compared to six in the later group. Also, there were three COVID hospitalizations and two deaths in the group vaccinated last year, compared to no hospitalizations or deaths in the group vaccinated in winter 2020 and spring 2021.

Moderna says the data provide evidence for giving booster doses to fully vaccinated people.

New Brunswick Records One-Day High of New Cases, Requires Proof of Vaccination

New Brunswick reported a one-day high of 63 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, at the same time announcing that it will require proof of vaccination starting next week to encourage more people to get vaccinated, according to CTV News.

“If life is a little more difficult for those that choose not to be vaccinated at a time when other lives are threatened because of it, just maybe the decision will be made: ‘OK it’s time,”‘ said New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs.

The previous daily high was 51 on Sept 11. Before that, it was 36 on Jan. 17. The province also announced that 52 of the 63 new cases were people who were not fully vaccinated with two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Starting Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 11:59 p.m., people will be required to show proof of vaccination to go to indoor festivals, sports events, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, gyms and indoor group exercise facilities.

Italy to Make COVID-19 Health Pass Mandatory for Workers

Italy will become the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for all workers to have a COVID-19 “Green Pass,” with the cabinet members due to approve the measure at a meeting today, reports Reuters.

The pass is a digital or paper certificate showing someone has received at least one vaccine dose, tested negative or recently recovered from the disease. It was originally conceived to ease travel among European Union states

While some European countries have ordered their health workers to get vaccines, none have made the Green Pass mandatory for all employees, making Italy a test case for the continent.

Alaska Records Highest Number of New Cases

Alaska reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases Wednesday, after the state’s largest hospital started rationing care because of so many COVID-19 patients, reports the Toronto Star.

Officials reported 1,068 new infections, which is 13 per cent higher than last week. State officials say 201 Alaskans are hospitalized for COVID-19, and 34 of them are on ventilators.

The state’s chief medical officer says hospitals continue to be stressed and there isn’t capacity for patients who have COVID-19 as well as those with other needs.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 15, 2021

Study: Third Dose Produces 10 Times More Antibodies Than Second Dose

A serological study conducted at an Israeli hospital found that antibody levels after a third COVID-19 vaccine dose were 10 times higher than those detected after the second dose.

The preliminary results, seen among vaccinated staff at Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv, stoked optimism as to the amount of time the booster shot retains its protection, the Times of Israel reported today.

The study compared the antibody levels a week after the third COVID-19 vaccine dose was administered to its staff to their levels a week after the second dose was administered.

The hospital told the network it was treating the results with caution and would continue to observe the antibody levels over the coming months.

Ontario’s Vaccine Certificate Program Details Announced

The Ontario government outlined details of its vaccine certificate program yesterday. It comes into effect on Sept. 22, reports CP24 News.

Residents will have to show proof that they have received both doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to entering non-essential businesses, including gyms, cinemas, restaurants, casinos, strip clubs and nightclubs.

However, they don’t have to prove they’re fully immunized when they enter establishments to access an outdoor area, to place or pick up an order, to use the washroom or to place a bet at a horse racing track.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says businesses will be required to authenticate patrons’ identification and vaccine certificates and that police officers can assist with enforcement if either businesses or patrons don’t comply.

“If there are any businesses that are concerned, that when they refuse entry to a restaurant or gym or whatever it happens to be that if any point they feel threatened we want them to call 911 as soon as possible to make sure that our police officers can be there to assist,” she said Tuesday afternoon.

Individuals and businesses could face a fine of about $750 and $1,000, respectively, for non-compliance.

Residents who are attending a wedding or funeral service and are not attending the associated social gathering are also exempted from showing proof of vaccination.

Exemptions are also given to those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and for children under 12 years old who are not currently eligible for a vaccine in the province.

Winnipeg Mandates Vaccines for Front-Line Workers

The City of Winnipeg announced Tuesday that it will require all front-line employees working with vulnerable residents or in high-risk settings, in direct contact with the public, to be fully vaccinated, the Winnipeg Free Press reports.

Staff must have both COVID-19 shots, plus two weeks to let the second dose become effective, by Nov. 15. Employees must have their first dose by Sept. 30 and their follow up by Oct. 28.

People working in public safety and protection, recreational services, public transportation and customer service roles are affected.

Yellowknife Schools Closed

The chief public health officer in the Northwest Territories, Dr. Kami Kandola, has closed all schools in Yellowknife and surrounding areas until at least Sept. 24 after a spike in COVID-19 cases, according to CTV News.

Schools closed yesterday, two weeks after students returned to classrooms. Students will shift to online learning, said a statement from Kandola.

Kandola also ordered that private gatherings in Yellowknife and the surrounding area to be limited to 10 people. No more than five can be from another household.

The territory is dealing with its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic. There have been 523 cases since early August after a hand-games tournament became a superspreader event.

Good News: World Records Drop in COVID-19 Cases

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that every region in the world had recorded a drop in COVID-19 cases compared to the previous week, reports Deutsche Welle.

In its weekly update, the UN health agency said there had been 3,931,221 cases. In recent weeks there have been about 4.4 million cases each week.

“This represents the first substantial decline in weekly cases in more than two months,” the WHO report said.

The highest numbers of new cases were reported from the U.S., U.K., India, Iran and Turkey. Meanwhile, the highly contagious Delta variant has been reported in 180 countries — with six more countries reporting it in the past week.

While the global number of deaths decreased to about 62,000 — with the sharpest decline in Southeast Asia — Africa recorded a seven per cent increase.

Israel’s Current Wave of COVID-19 Surpasses Past Outbreaks

The director of Israel’s health ministry, Nachman Ash, said Tuesday that the current wave of coronavirus infections is surpassing anything seen in previous outbreaks and that he is disappointed that a recent downward trend appeared to be reversing, reports the Times of Israel.

Ash’s remarks came as health ministry figures showed that more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases were diagnosed the day before, and that the positive test rate was climbing.

Pointing out that there is an average of 8,000 new infections each day, with occasional peaks over 10,000, Ash said, “That is a record that did not exist in the previous waves,” including the massive third wave at the end of last year.

After bringing daily infections down to little more than a dozen a day in June, Israel has been battling to control a resurgence of COVID-19. The country’s coronavirus chief, Salman Zarka, said that 50 per cent of confirmed cases on Monday were children.

—Judy Gerstel


Sept. 14, 2021

British Columbia’s Vaccine “Passport” Now in Effect

B.C.’s vaccine card program requiring proof to enter many non-essential businesses is now in effect.

As of Monday, anyone visiting discretionary businesses like sit-down restaurants, movie theatres and fitness centres must show proof that they’ve had at least one COVID-19 shot. By Oct. 24, they’ll need to show proof they’re fully vaccinated.

Employees working at those establishments don’t need to show proof they’ve been vaccinated, unless their employer requires them to.

COVID-19 Goes to School in Ontario, New Brunswick

Five days into the school year for most of Ontario, schools are reporting 189 active cases of COVID-19 among students and staff, dozens of classes are self-isolating at home and one school is completely closed, reports CP24 News.

Schools in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area were reporting 74 of those cases Monday, with hundreds of students already ordered home to self-isolate due to exposures.

Viscount Alexander Public School in Cornwall, Ont. became the first of the province’s 4,800 public schools to close due to COVID-19 this school year, after officials announced an outbreak there on Sunday and ordered all students and staff to go to remote learning for at least one week.

So far, the province is not publicly disclosing COVID-19 cases confirmed among the roughly 2 million students and 300,000 education workers.

Meanwhile, CBC News reports that New Brunswick has recorded a big bump in positive COVID-19 cases, with multiple schools and daycares closed on Monday. The province announced 122 new cases on Monday, accumulated over the weekend, with new cases in every one of the seven health zones. Positive cases have been detected in 11 schools and three childcare facilities in the Moncton, Fredericton and Campbellton regions.

Also, in-person classes at West Royalty Elementary School in Charlottetown will be cancelled for at least a week, and others in the family of schools belonging to Charlottetown Rural High School and Colonel Gray High School will be cancelled for at least three days following an outbreak of COVID-19.

Is a Third Shot Necessary? Experts Are Divided

A group of international experts — including two outgoing U.S. Food and Drug Administration vaccine regulators — argue in a new paper published Monday in the Lancet against offering COVID-19 vaccine boosters to the general population, reports

The paper is based on data about the durability of vaccine protection. It was co-authored by Marion Gruber and Phil Krause, two veteran FDA officials who have been leading the agency’s review of COVID-19 vaccine application. Their stance amounts to a rebuff to the Biden administration as it lays plans for booster shots beginning later this month, suggests Statnews reporter Andrew Joseph. Gruber and Krause announced last month they would be leaving the agency this fall.

Other authors include experts from the World Health Organization, which has called for countries to delay broad booster plans as many countries are still suffering from a lack of vaccine supply

“Current evidence does not, therefore, appear to show a need for boosting in the general population, in which efficacy against severe disease remains high,” the authors wrote.

Nevertheless, experts do agree that people with compromised immune systems should be receiving third shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. And some experts argue that seniors, who generally mount less robust immune responses to vaccines, should also be eligible for boosters.

But for the general population, experts are divided over whether boosters are necessary.

Meanwhile, the Times of London reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce today that most adults will be offered a COVID-19 booster jab in the coming months as a way to protect Britain against a “prolonged and unpredictable” winter. Johnson will confirm today that 32 million adults over 50 will be offered a third Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot to ensure that their protection continues. Under the booster program, which begins next week, people will be offered the vaccine six months after their second dose, following the same priority list as the initial program, with care home workers and residents, the over-80s and health-care workers first in line.

Putin Self-Isolating, Cancels Summit Meeting 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is self-isolating because of possible exposure to the coronavirus, the Kremlin said on Tuesday, as reported by the New York Times. He cancelled a planned trip to Tajikistan this week for a summit with leaders from Central Asia and former Soviet countries.

“Vladimir Putin said that in connection with identified cases of the coronavirus in his environment, he must observe self-isolation for a certain period of time,” the statement said.

Putin said earlier this year that he had been vaccinated with the two-dose regimen of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. But he has continued to be extraordinarily careful in his public appearances, often requiring people he meets to quarantine beforehand.

—Judy Gerstel


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

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


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