COVID-19 Tracker: Medicago’s Made-in-Canada Plant-Based Vaccine Approved by Health Canada

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

Feb. 24, 2022

Medicago’s vaccine became the world’s first plant-based shot approved against COVID-19 after Health Canada cleared it for use in adults.

The two-dose vaccine, which uses an adjuvant from GlaxoSmithKline to boost immune response, is the sixth COVID-19 shot to receive regulatory clearance in the country.

The home-grown vaccine, branded Covifenz, is based on a technology that uses plants in its development process to produce non-infectious particles that mimic the virus.

The Quebec-based privately held company has an agreement to supply up to 76 million doses of the vaccine to the Canadian government. Medicago said on Thursday it was committed to fulfilling the order as soon as possible.

The shot, approved for people aged 18 to 64 years, was 75.3% effective against the Delta variant of the virus in a late-stage study, the companies said in December.

The vaccine also showed overall efficacy of 71% against all variants of the coronavirus except Omicron, which was not prevalent when the study was underway.

Canada has approved several vaccines including those based on mRNA technology from Moderna and Pfizer. Last week, Health Canada cleared Novavax’s protein-based shot for use in adults.

(Reporting by Amruta Khandekar; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Sriraj Kalluvila)



Feb. 23, 2022

The Other Omicron and What Experts Know About It

Officials in Nunavut confirmed Tuesday the first appearance of BA.2, a subvariant of Omicron. in testing from a case of COVID-19 in Iqaluit.

“Although this strain spreads more easily than Omicron, it does not appear to be any more likely to cause serious infection,” said Dr. Michael Patterson, the territory’s chief public health officer, at a COVID-19 update yesterday.

(Tracking by the Public Health Agency of Canada shows that as of the end of January, 98 per cent of new reported COVID-19 cases were that of the Omicron variant, with testing showing that 11 per cent were the BA.2 strain.)

Also on Tuesday, the World Health Organization released a statement on the latest evidence on Omicron, including its most common sublineages BA.1, BA.1.1 and BA.2, saying that “the proportion of reported sequences designated BA.2 has been increasing relative to BA.1 in recent weeks, however the global circulation of all variants is reportedly declining.”

The agency also said that although initial data suggests BA.2 is inherently more transmissible than BA.1 — the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it at 30 per cent more contagious — the difference appears much smaller than, for example, the difference between transmissibility of BA.1 — Omicron original as it’s been described — and Delta.

The WHO also noted that even with BA.2 incidence increasing globally, there is still a reported decline in Omicron cases overall.

But what about severity of illness?

The WHO statement noted that although a recent Japanese study suggests BA.2 may cause more severe disease in hamsters compared to BA.1, real-world data from South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Denmark, where immunity from vaccination or natural infection is high, “there was no reported difference in severity between BA.2 and BA.1.”

Will vaccines continue to protect us?

“The ability of BA.2 to become more dominant than BA.1 in certain populations appears to be more due to its increased transmissibility rather than some sort of brand-new immune escape from vaccines,” Dr. Dan Barouch, a Harvard Medical School professor and the lead author of a preprint study on immune-system response to the BA.1 and BA.2 strains, said in a recent interview with New York magazine.

“In our preprint, which is under review at a major journal, we looked at Pfizer-vaccinated individuals as well as a cohort of Omicron-infected individuals. Similar to with BA.1, there was very little neutralization prior to a third boost of Pfizer. But after a third boost, neutralizing antibody titers [a test that measures the level of antibodies in a blood sample] came up strongly to both BA.1 and BA.2, still at substantially lower levels than the vaccine-matched strain,” he said.

Barouch, who also led the development of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, said that while it’s “very likely” BA.2 will gain momentum in the U.S., there’s no guarantee of another big wave of COVID-19 as seen with Omicron already.

Last week, Canada’s top doctor said the country’s vaccination rates — a little more than 80 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated and 45 per cent have a booster — should protect against another surge of hospitalizations even if COVID-19 cases increase as restrictions ease.

“While a resurgence of cases is not unexpected given the characteristics of the Omicron variant, the good news is that current levels of immunity in the Canadian population are expected to reduce the impact of the Omicron infections going forward,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in an update on COVID-19 Friday.

She says we are in a better position to manage the pandemic without some of the more restrictive measures, but recommends people continue precautions such as avoiding crowded places and wearing a mask when necessary.

“The cases might go up, but as long as that wave of hospitalizations isn’t as high, we can probably cope with that,” said Tam. “And with that comes a better balance.”

—Tara Losinski


Feb. 22, 2022

Government Approves Emergencies Act

Canada’s Parliament on Monday backed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke rarely used emergency powers to end pandemic-related protests that have blocked streets in the capital Ottawa for more than three weeks.

The Emergencies Act was approved in Parliament by 185 to 151, with the minority Liberal government getting support from left-leaning New Democrats.

The special measures, announced by Trudeau a week ago, have been deemed unnecessary and an abuse of power by some opposition politicians.

Over the weekend, Canadian police restored normalcy in Ottawa. The protesters initially wanted an end to cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truck drivers, but the occupation turned into a broader demonstration against Trudeau and his government. Protestors blocked the busiest land crossing between Canada and the United States for six days, snarling trade.

Earlier on Monday, Trudeau told reporters his government still needed temporary emergency powers citing “real concerns” about threats in the days ahead. “This state of emergency is not over. There continue to be real concerns about the coming days,” Trudeau said.

The act grants authorities broader powers.

Police spent two days clearing protesters from the downtown Ottawa, making 191 arrests and towing 79 vehicles by the time the operation ended on Sunday.

Trudeau also called for people to work together, saying “we don’t know when this pandemic is going to end, but that doesn’t mean we cannot start healing as a nation.”

Some members of the official opposition Conservative Party accuse Trudeau of abusing his powers. Legislator Dean Allison decried what he called “authoritarian military style measures” against the protesters.

Green Party member Mike Morrice, who voted against the motion, said invoking the act was an “inappropriate” response to a failure in policing.

“As many other Parliamentarians have shared, the use of the Emergencies Act sets a worrying precedent for future protests,” he said.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Denny Thomas; Editing by Grant McCool and Jane Wardell)


Convoy Organizer Denied Bail

An Ontario judge on Tuesday denied bail to Tamara Lich, one of the key organizers of the anti-mandate protests in Ottawa.

As the Toronto Star reports, Ontario Court Justice Julie Bourgeois said in the decision that the effects of the convoy on the city of Ottawa were immense, and that she didn’t trust Lich not to reoffend.

“I cannot be reassured that if I release you into the community that you will not reoffend,” Bourgeois said. “Your detention is necessary for the protection and safety of the public.”

Lich had been arrested Thursday, and charged with counselling to commit mischief. During a bail hearing on Saturday, she promised to give up her advocacy of the protest and return to Alberta. But Bourgeois said today that she did not feel Lich’s responses on Saturday were genuine.

Bourgeois also ordered Lich to have no contact with other convoy organizers Benjamin Dichter, Daniel Bulford, Christopher Barber — who was arrested the same day as Lich, but released on bail Saturday — and Patrick King, who has a bail hearing set for later today.

—Tara Losinski


Feb. 18, 2022

Police in Ottawa Move to Break up Blockade

Police on Friday started arresting protesters as part of an operation to end a three-week blockade of Ottawa by hundreds of truck drivers that crippled the capital and prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to assume emergency powers.

Live television footage showed police making at least eight arrests, without using any force. Officers had detained two of the protest leaders late on Thursday.

“Some protesters are surrendering and are being arrested. We ask protesters to remain peaceful and lawful,” the Ottawa police said in a tweet.

Hundreds of police could be seen in central Ottawa, which received more than 20 cm of snow overnight, as temperatures with wind chill hovered around -23 C.

At least one BearCat, a military-style armoured vehicle, could be seen. Police say the operation will take days.

The drivers, joined by thousands of demonstrators and some 400 vehicles, turned the streets around Parliament into a party zone since first arriving on Jan. 28, in what has become one of the worst crises to hit Trudeau since he took power in 2015.

The protesters initially wanted an end to cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truck drivers but the blockade gradually turned into an anti-government and anti-Trudeau demonstration. Some want Trudeau to be ousted.

Police have sealed off the centre of the city, setting up 100 checkpoints to prevent any more people joining the demonstration on Parliament Hill.

Police had said on Thursday that they would take imminent action to end the protest amid increasing resident anger at the previous failure of authorities to intervene.

The CBC, citing security sources, said authorities had set up a number of temporary detention centres around the city.

The House of Commons suspended its Friday sitting due to the expected police action, it said in a notice.

“If you are not in the House of Commons precinct, stay away from the downtown core until further notice,” the notice said.

Legislators had been due to debate Trudeau’s decision on Monday to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time in 50 years, granting the government temporary additional widespread powers to deal with what he called a threat to democracy.

Protesters blocked several land crossings with the United States, including the busiest, the Ambassador Bridge, which connects to Detroit, for six days, hurting both countries’ economies.

Many protesters on Parliament Hill said they would not leave until their demands were met.

“End the mandates, give us our rights and this is over,” said Chris Dacey on Thursday. “We’ll all go back to our families.”

(Reporting by David Ljunggren, Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; Editing by Leslie Adler, Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Porter)



Feb. 17, 2022

Trudeau Cites Threat to Democracy as Ottawa Protesters Vow to Stay

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused protestors encamped in downtown Ottawa of engaging in acts that represented “a threat to our democracy” as demonstrators continued a three-week blockade of the centre of the capital.

Canadian officials have increasingly sharpened their tone, warning of extremist elements present among demonstrators who they say want to overthrow the government.

Trudeau invoked the little-used Emergencies Act on Monday, giving the government a wide range of additional temporary powers. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have sent in reinforcements and public broadcaster Radio-Canada said the province of Quebec was preparing to provide police.

In a letter to the premiers of the 10 provinces, at least four of whom say there was no need to invoke the act, Trudeau said: “We are seeing activity that is a threat to our democracy and that is undermining the public’s trust in our institutions”.

Police in Ottawa had on Wednesday handed out flyers warning truck drivers and others paralyzing the downtown core of the city that they should leave or face arrest, but there was little sign of imminent action to move the nearly 400 vehicles out.

“We are going to take back the entirety of the downtown core and every occupied space,” Interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Bad weather could potentially complicate any policing action. A steady rain fell on Ottawa early on Thursday and Environment Canada said this would later turn to snow, with up to 12 inches (30 cm) expected by Friday morning.

While the demonstrators initially protested against cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truckers and pandemic restrictions, they also have made clear their opposition to Trudeau and some say they want to kick him out of office.

Tamara Lich, a prominent fundraiser for and organizer of the Ottawa protest, said in a video posted by CTV late on Wednesday: “I’m ready, I’m not afraid, and we’re going hold the line”.

Trudeau is due to address the House of Commons on his decision to invoke the act at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Wednesday that a portion of the protesters “have strong ties to a far-right extreme organization with leaders who are in Ottawa,” referring to the arrest of 13 people in Alberta earlier this week linked to a border blockade there.

Four have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Diane Craft and David Holmes)



Feb. 16, 2022

Feds Want to Quickly Clear Remaining Ottawa Protestors

Armed with new emergency powers, the federal government is promising quick action to clear a three-week old truckers’ blockade that has brought the centre of Ottawa to a standstill.

Protesters remain camped out on Parliament Hill, weeks after police first allowed hundreds of trucks to park in the riverside core of the city.

Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly quit on Tuesday after criticism that he did not do enough to stop the protests, which began as truckers objecting to cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates for rigs but has become more of an anti-government movement also directed at Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau on Monday invoked the little-used Emergencies Act, allowing the government to boost local police forces with officers from the national Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she had had a “great meeting” on Tuesday with Steve Bell, the acting chief of the Ottawa police, and the head of police in the province of Ontario, where Ottawa is located.

“Our teams are committed and look forward to working together,” she tweeted late on Tuesday.

Some protesters are refusing to leave, and early on Wednesday there were still dozens of trucks parked near Trudeau’s office on Parliament Hill.

Sources told Reuters that frustration with the failure of police to lift blockades at the border and in the capital ultimately drove Trudeau to seek emergency powers.

Police say there are 360 vehicles in the city centre, down from 4,000 at the peak of the demonstrations. Police have laid 33 charges and made 18 arrests.

“That work begins now … there’s an urgency to that response,” Emergencies Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said on Tuesday when asked when Ottawa residents could expect order to be restored.

Bell earlier told the city council that “I believe we now have the resources … to bring a safe end to this occupation.”

One truck driver said the protesters had been taking care of the city.

“When we got here, it was all full of snow. Look who cleaned it up … There is no garbage,” said John, who declined to give his last name. “And we’re the terrorists?”

Candice Bergen, interim head of the official opposition Conservatives, accused Trudeau in the House of Commons on Tuesday of unnecessarily using an “unprecedented sledgehammer.”

Trudeau responded that “this is a time for responsible leadership, not crass partisanship”.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Grant McCool)


Ford Says it’s Time to Move on From Pandemic

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is fed up with the ongoing pandemic.

On Tuesday, when asked by reporters about what business owners hoping to keep vaccination requirements in place after the province drops the passport system should do, Ford said it was time to move on from the pandemic.

“We are done with it,” Ford said. “Let’s just start moving on, cautiously. The world’s done with it, let’s just move forward.”

“We just have to be careful, make sure we wash our hands and move forward.”

On Monday, Ford and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore announced they were dropping capacity limits in most indoor settings this week and a plan to scrap the vaccine passport on March 1.

Ford also expressed doubts about the protection a third vaccine jab provides — this despite estimates that say a third dose is more than 60 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection from his province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

“You see the prime minister, he has triple shots and I know hundreds of people with three shots, who caught COVID-19. We just need to be careful, always make sure we wash our hands and move forward.”

According to CP24, 48 per cent of adults have had a third dose, but vaccination rates have fallen by nearly 75 per cent in the past 60 days.

Ford also encouraged people to respect the beliefs of those who chose not to get vaccinated and expressed concern over the divisiveness the issue had created.

“There’s rabble-rousers, and there are just hard-working people that just don’t believe in it, and that’s their choice. This is about democracy and freedoms and liberties. I hate, as a government, telling anyone what to do. We just have to get out of this and move forward and protect the jobs,” he said. “I’ve never seen this province and this country so divided. It’s affected friendships, it’s affected coworkers, it’s affected families.”

B.C. to Lift most COVID-19 Restrictions

B.C. is lifting most of its COVID-19 restrictions.

On Wednesday, B.C. will drop capacity limits for indoor personal gatherings, indoor and outdoor organized gatherings and indoor seated events, as long as attendees wear masks and B.C. vaccine passports are used.

Restaurants, bars and nightclubs will also return to full capacity. As well, table-size limits will be removed and dance floors will open again. Capacity limits have also been removed for fitness centres and adult sports as long as masks are worn and vaccine cards are used.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s chief medical officer, who joined Premier John Horgan to announce the relaxing of measures, said that masking and vaccine card requirements as well as rules around long-term care visitors will be reviewed in the next two months.

“I want to say how proud I am of people in B.C. for stepping up and doing what you have done to take care of each other, to follow the guidance that we have,” Henry said.” We want to move ahead slowly, and cautiously, and thoughtfully.”

—Andrew Wright


Feb. 15, 2022

Trudeau Invokes Emergency Powers to Starve Protesting Canadian Truckers of Funds

Canada is planning to impose emergency measures not used for more than 50 years to cut off funding for truckers responsible for nationwide protests that have gridlocked the nation’s capital for weeks.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday became only the second Canadian leader in peacetime to invoke the Emergencies Act, which gives Ottawa broad powers to end three weeks of protests across the country that have hit cross-border trade, angered the United States and brought the centre of the capital to a halt.

“This illegal occupation needs to end … the measure of success will be, can we get our supply chains back? Can we end the disruption to livelihoods of people who rely on trade to the United States?” Trudeau told reporters.

Trudeau acted after concluding that law enforcement could not cope with the protesters, especially in Ottawa, where police have largely stood and watched truckers and demonstrators bring the city to a standstill.

As part of the Act, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a slew of measures to choke off the truckers’ funding, saying they could lose their commercial licenses, insurance and access to bank accounts.

“I suspect following the money and then turning the money off is probably a good strategy and not one that’s easily done … temporary short-term measures that wouldn’t normally be acceptable can be put in place,” Jack Lindsay, department chair for applied disaster and emergency studies at Brandon University in Manitoba.

“I imagine this will start of week full of political discourse over whether the government overstepped or not.”

Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, said he backed Trudeau’s decision.

The last leader to invoke such measures was Trudeau’s father, Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who clamped down in 1970 after a splinter group of militant Quebec separatists kidnapped a provincial minister and a British diplomat.

But whereas he had broad support, four provinces opposed Monday’s move on the grounds they can cope with the protests.

Police in Alberta, one of the unhappy provinces, said on Monday they had arrested 11 people and confiscated a large number of guns. Members of the group had vowed to resist attempts to end a nearby border blockade, authorities said.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association came out against the government’s decision Monday, saying the standard for invoking the Emergencies Act “has not been met.”

The Act exists for situations that seriously threaten “the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada” and that “cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada,” it said in a statement.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Nichola Saminather and Anna Mehler-Paperny; Editing by Stephen Coates)



Feb. 14, 2022

Trudeau to Invoke Emergency Powers to End Protests?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will inform provincial premiers of his intention to invoke special measures to give the federal government extraordinary powers to deal with protests that have shut some border crossings with the United States and paralyzed parts of Canada’s capital, CBC News said on Monday.

Citing unnamed sources, CBC said Trudeau planned to invoke the Emergencies Act, a rarely used provision that allows the federal government to override the provinces and authorize special temporary measures to ensure security during national emergencies anywhere in the country.

It has only been used once in peacetime — by Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau — during the so-called “October Crisis” in 1970. It was invoked twice during the two world wars, when it was known as the War Measures Act.

The CBC said Ottawa had no plans to send in the military.

A six-day blockade of North America’s busiest trade corridor in Windsor, Ontario, ended on Sunday while protests in Ottawa entered a third week. The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, have turned into a rallying point for people opposing the policies of Trudeau’s government, covering everything from pandemic restrictions to a carbon tax.

(Writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Paul Simao)

— Reuters


U.S.-Canada Bridge Reopens After Police Clear Protesters

North America’s busiest trade link reopened for traffic late Sunday evening, ending a six-day blockade, Canada Border Services Agency said, after Canadian police cleared the protesters fighting to end COVID-19 restrictions.

Canadian police made several arrests on Sunday and cleared protesters and vehicles that occupied the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., after a court order on Friday.

The blockade had choked the supply chain for Detroit’s carmakers, forcing Ford Motor Co, the second-largest U.S. automaker, General Motors Co and Toyota Motor Corp to cut production.

The bridge carries about $360 million a day in two-way cargoes — 25 per cent of the value of all U.S.-Canada goods trade.

A Windsor Police official told reporters that 20 to 30 arrests had been made. Police also seized vehicles within the demonstration area, according to an earlier statement.

Police stepped up their presence on Sunday with more than 50 vehicles, including cruisers, buses and an armoured car, as the number of protesters dropped to around 45 from roughly 100 on Saturday. Windsor Police tweeted “there will be zero tolerance for illegal activity”.

In Ottawa, counter protests started blocking vehicles trying to join the protests on Sunday, with residents losing patience over the three-week-old demonstrations.

In British Columbia, the Pacific highway border crossing in Surrey was temporarily closed on Sunday afternoon, for a second day, by a group of about 200 protesters, according to a Reuters photographer on the scene. A small group of protesters gathered on U.S. side of the border, blocking incoming vehicles.

The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started in the national capital Ottawa by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, entered its 17th day on Sunday. But it has now morphed into a rallying point against broader COVID-19 curbs, carbon tax and other issues, with people joining in cars, pick-up trucks and farm vehicles.

“We’re fed up, we’re tired. We want Ottawa to be boring again,” said an Ottawa resident at a counter protest in front of the city’s police headquarters.

Strangling bilateral trade, protests have spread to three border points, including in Alberta and Manitoba. Canadian police have said the protests have been partly funded by U.S. supporters, and Ontario froze funds donated via one U.S. platform GiveSendGo on Thursday.

The estimated loss so far from the blockades to the auto industry alone could be as high as $850 million, based on IHS Markit’s data, which puts the 2021 daily flow in vehicles and parts at $141.1 million a day.

“Today, our national economic crisis at the Ambassador Bridge came to an end,” Windsor City Mayor Drew Dilkens said in a tweet.

In Europe, a convoy of 150 cars protesting COVID-19 restrictions left Paris on Sunday morning and headed towards Brussels, protesters told Reuters.

(Reporting by Shivani Tanna In Bengaluru, Kayla Tarnowski in Windsor, Ontario, and Chris Helgrin in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Julio Cesar Chavez and Carlos Osorio in Windsor; Jen Gauthier in SurreyWriting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Amran Abocar, Lisa Shumaker, Daniel Wallis and Gerry Doyle)

— Reuters

Ontario and Quebec loosen pandemic restricitons

Both Ontario and Quebec are scaling back pandemic restrictions.

In an announcement today, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province would see the removal of capacity limits this week for many businesses, including restaurants, bars and casinos.

“Given how well Ontario has done in the Omicron wave we are able to fast track our reopening plan,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.“This is great news and a sign of just how far we’ve come together in our fight against the virus. While we aren’t out of the woods just yet we are moving in the right direction.”

The province also plans on removing proof of vaccination requirements in the province from March 1, while maintaining mask requirements.

Meanwhile, Quebec has also continued its reopening plan. Organized sports will be allowed to resume and gyms and spas will reopen. The province’s long-term care residents will also be permitted to receive more visitors and leave their homes for visits.


Feb. 11, 2022

Ontario Declares State of Emergency 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has been noticeably quiet about the protests in his province, held a news conference Friday, accompanied by Attorney General Doug Downey, Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.

Ford started by saying the coronavirus “has consistently forced us to make decisions that no one ever wanted to make,” adding that the province was on track to “very soon remove almost all restrictions.” Although he wouldn’t confirm, when asked, timing for ending Ontario’s vaccine passport program.

The premier went on to announce that he will convene cabinet and “use legal authorities to urgently enact orders” that will protect international border crossings, as well as the 400-series highways, airports, bridges, ports and railways in the province.

Fines for non-compliance will be severe, said the premier, with a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment.

The premier said protesters have been “heard, loud and clear,” and that the “siege” in Ottawa is no longer a protest.

“With a protest, you peacefully make your point and you go back home,” said Ford.

“My message to those still in Ottawa, to those still at border crossings, please go home,” he added.

Automakers Seek Legal Action Against Windsor Blockade

Canadian automakers are seeking a court order to remove COVID-19 vaccine mandate protestors and end a nearly week-long blockade at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

As the Toronto Star reports, the Ontario Superior Court will hear an application at noon Friday for an injunction from the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, with the City of Windsor acting as an intervenor.

RCMP have been sent to Windsor, as well as to the Alberta-Montana protest and to Ottawa, marking two full weeks today of occupation by convoy protesters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday evening that he’d spoken with Windsor’s mayor, and that he would continue to work with municipal and provincial governments to make sure they have the resources they need to end the blockades.

“This evening, I had several meetings that were focused on the illegal blockades and occupations happening across the country. They’re harming the communities they’re taking place in — and they’re hurting jobs, businesses, and our country’s economy,” Trudeau tweeted.

The prime minister is facing pressure here and state-side, with CTV News reporting that the PMO said his government is willing to “respond with whatever it takes,” to get the protests under control, confirming federal ministers and top Canadian officials are working with U.S. representatives to “resolve” the situation.


—Tara Losinski


Feb. 10, 2022

Convoy Protests Continue; NDP: American Funding an Attack on Our Democracy

The NDP are looking for unanimous consent to invite U.S. Ambassador David Cohen to testify before the House of Commons foreign affairs committee. The party says American funding to the so-called “freedom convoy” protest in Ottawa is an attack on Canada’s democracy

It’s been reported that a significant portion of the more than $10 million in donations to organizers came from American donors.

Ottawa police have warned protesters who continue to block streets in the nation’s capital could be charged with mischief to property, have their vehicles and other property seized and possibly forfeited, and that — in a twist of irony — such charges or convictions could see them banned at the U.S. border.

And, as the Toronto Star reports, a continued blockade at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit has lead to more auto plant shut downs, with Toyota being the latest to stop production today, and for the rest of the week, at three of its Ontario plants.

B.C. Expands Vaccine Mandate 

While protests against vaccine mandates continue across the country, officials in B.C. announced Wednesday that the measure will be expanded in the province.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said yesterday that B.C.’s vaccine mandate for health-care workers, which was introduced in October for workers in acute care and long-term care, will be extended to all regulated health professionals — including everyone from acupuncturists to surgeons.

“I have spoken many times about the importance of all of us, as health-care professionals, doing everything we can,” said Henry as she announced the expanded mandate yesterday. “And it is our obligation to make sure that we’re taking all of the measures to protect those patients in our care — especially the more vulnerable people that we serve.”

The deadline for all practitioners regulated by B.C.’s health-care colleges to be fully vaccinated is March 24.

“It is the vaccine mandate in health care that has made a huge difference in our ability to manage through this wave,” Henry went on to say. “This is going to be a serious respiratory illness that’s going to be with us at least for another year.”

—Tara Losinski


Feb. 9, 2022

U.K., Sweden Sweeping Away Remaining COVID Measures 

It’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to drop the U.K.’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions — including the requirement for people who test positive to self-isolate — later this month as part of his new “living with COVID” strategy.

“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions, including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive a full month early,” Johnson told MPs in the House of Commons Wednesday.

In Sweden, state-offered PCR testing for symptomatic residents, with the exception of health-care and elder-care workers and vulnerable individuals, has been scrapped.

“We have reached a point where the cost and relevance of the testing is no longer justifiable,” Swedish Public Health Agency chief, Karin Tegmark Wisell, told the national broadcast SVT this week.

Also on Wednesday, the country lifted gathering limits for events and in restaurants, with proof of vaccination also no longer required.

Throughout the pandemic, Sweden resisted the most restrictive measures against COVID-19, including lockdowns. But the price for that freedom is a comparatively high death rate, 12 times higher than neighbouring Norway — where measures included mandatory work-from-home and travel shut downs — accordingly to a study from early December. With a population of 10.2 million, Sweden has reported 16,244 deaths. At more than three time the population (38.2 million) Canada has recorded 34, 969 deaths.

Alberta, Sask. Dropping Vaccine Passports

Albertans can once again dine out without needing proof of vaccination. Dropping the province’s so-called restrictions exception program was part of a three-step plan to ease COVID measures announced by Premier Jason Kenney Tuesday.

“It is clear that we passed the peak of our current infections about three weeks ago and are now seeing the result as COVID-related hospital admissions are declining,” Kenney said at a news conference.

“It has always been the government’s approach to keep public health measures in place only so long as they are absolutely necessary to protect public health and our health-care system throughout the pandemic.”

Alberta is the first province to lift the measure, but Saskatchewan will follow shortly, also announcing yesterday that the measure is being eased, on Feb. 14.

“We want things to be as normal as they possibly can,” said Premier Scott Moe at a COVID-19 update on Tuesday.

Moe said that it’s time for the province to move on, leaving behind the proof of vaccination policy, which he said “effectively created two classes of citizens” in Saskatchewan.

Other public health orders, including masking in indoor public spaces and self-isolation orders for people who test positive for COVID-19, will remain in place but only until the end of February.

Alberta will move to Step 2 of its plan on March 1, if hospitalization numbers continue to trend down, at which time the provincial mask mandate will be lifted, but mandatory isolation will not be lifted until Step 3, for which Kenney did not confirm timing.

—Tara Losinski


Feb. 8, 2022

Almost Half of Vaxxed Canadians Sympathize With Convoy Protesters

Almost two-thirds of Canadians (62 per cent) oppose the Ottawa protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and public health measures, with almost half (47 per cent) saying they strongly oppose the message behind the trucker convoy.

While nearly a third of people asked this past weekend in a survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies said they support the protest, with 17 per cent strongly supporting and 15 per cent somewhat supporting.

Support for the protesters’ message was highest among Albertans, with 40 per cent either somewhat or strongly supporting the convoy, while opposition to the protest was highest, at 65 per cent, among residents in British Columbia.

And the survey would suggest that it isn’t just unvaxxed Canadians who empathize with protesters.

A little less than half of people polled (44 per cent of 1,546) agreed with the statement: “I am vaccinated against COVID-19, but I do sympathize with the concerns and frustrations being voiced by people involved in the trucker protest in Ottawa.”

However, 65 per cent also agreed that the convoy represents a small minority of Canadians thinking only about themselves and not about those facing delayed surgery and treatment, and more than half of respondents (57 per cent) agreed that the convoy is not about protesting mandates, but an opportunity for right wing groups to voice their frustrations.

Cancer Care Backlog in N.S. Will Take Years to Resolve

It will take years to resolve the backlog in Nova Scotia’s cancer care program, says its senior medical director.

“I don’t think we can look at this as reaching a peak and then quickly things will get back to normal,” Dr. Helmut Hollenhorst told CBC Monday.

“Even if COVID suddenly disappears tomorrow, it will take years to catch up with the backlog and to rebuild the system.”

As in other parts of the country, spikes in COVID-19 throughout the pandemic meant scaling back, or sometimes cancellation, of surgeries and treatments.
Hollenhorst said people putting off visiting the doctor or hospital out of fear of catching the coronavirus has also led to late detection of cancers.

“The impact of COVID will cost lives,” he said.

One study of COVID’s impact on cancer in Ontario found that in the first year of the pandemic, screening tests dropped 20 per cent below historical levels.

And modelling suggests reduced breast and colorectal cancer screening in Canada during the pandemic has the potential to lead to more later-stage diagnosis and more deaths.

—Tara Losinski


Feb. 7, 2022

Response to Trucker Convoy Protest Intensifies 

At the end of the second weekend of protests against COVID-19 mandates in Canada’s capital, a state of emergency was declared in Ottawa on Sunday.

Mayor Jim Watson, in a statement, said the decision “reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Sunday that his government was supporting in whatever way it could, but his office confirmed to CBC News Ottawa had not asked the province to request military aid from the federal government.

Meanwhile the federal government’s public safety minister would only hint that financial aid could be coming for affected businesses in Ottawa. “I think we are working closely with the city to look at providing some support for those who have been impacted. I know that shops and businesses have been closed, and I know that those discussions are ongoing,” said Marco Mendicino in an interview with CBC.

Although GoFundMe stopped payments from the trucker convoy fundraising page, saying the protest violates a rule in its terms of service that prohibits the promotion of violence and harassment, by Sunday CBC reports that organizers had already raised US$2.5 million through a Christian fundraising site.

But fundraising may not be the only speed bump the trucker convoy faces.

As the Toronto Star reports, an Ontario court is scheduled to hear arguments this afternoon in a proposed multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit by Ottawa residents who want protesters to stop honking their horns.

Paul Chamo, a human rights lawyer leading the legal action, gave organizers an out on Sunday, posting a release agreement via Twitter that they could sign and return to him by 10 a.m., Monday. Hard copies, he said, would be handed out in downtown Ottawa this morning. Champ finished his tweet, saying: “WE’VE HEARD YOU.”

Earlier Sunday, Ottawa Police said anyone found to be supporting protesters with aid, such as fuel, could be arrested, and by late evening 100 tickets had been issued and seven people had been arrested, reports CBC. The police force also said 60 criminal investigations were underway, mostly for mischief, theft, hate crimes and property damage.

On Monday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh issued a letter to House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota, calling for an emergency debate.

“The situation has reached a crisis point. And in times of crisis, it is important for federal leaders to show leadership, to urge de-escalation and to work together to find solutions,” wrote Singh.

“For over a week, the people of Ottawa have been under siege, and a similar demonstration in Coutts, Alta., has blocked the border and prevented important goods from reaching the people who need them….

“Not only have these convoys impacted people in their homes, they have also resulted in symbols of hate being promoted, sacred memorials being vandalized, local citizens being harassed and health-care workers being intimidated.”

—Tara Losinski


Feb. 4, 2022

Police, Leaders Respond to Trucker Protests

Ottawa police announced Friday morning they will take a “surge and contain strategy” to “restore order and prevent unlawful activity,” as the ‘freedom convoy’ protest in the capital’s Parliamentary Precinct marks one week.

“The demonstrators in this red zone area remain highly organized, well-funded, and extremely committed to resisting efforts to end the demonstration safely. This remains a very volatile and very dangerous demonstration,” Chief Peter Sloly said at a news conference Friday morning.

Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino confirmed Thursday that the RCMP will be deploying additional officers to assist Ottawa Police.

“This request is in addition to RCMP resources and support already in place since the arrival of the convoy to Ottawa,” he said in a statement. “It is important to underline that these are operational decisions taken by the police, independent of the government.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated yesterday that negotiating with the protesters is not on the table, as he says vaccine mandates were debated during the federal election in September.

“That is the decision Canadians took in the last election, by voting for parties that were supporting those mandates,” said Trudeau at a virtual news conference.

“So having a group of people who disagree with the outcome of an election, who want to go a different way and bring in an alternative government, is a non-starter in a responsible democracy.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory supports police in “doing everything they can” to prevent a situation like that in Ottawa, as protests against vaccine mandates are expected in his city on Saturday.

“I want to be absolutely clear,” said Tory Thursday morning ahead of a city council meeting, “I support Toronto police taking necessary action to prepare for this possible protest with a focus on doing everything they can to protect the safety of Toronto residents and businesses and to minimize any disruptions to those Toronto residents and businesses to the greatest extent possible.”

In a more muted response, Ontario Premier Doug Ford told Hamilton radio station 900 CHML Thursday morning, “I just hope it’s always a peaceful protest.”

“If people want to come down and protest, God bless ’em,” added Ford. “I understand their frustration. I really do.”

Meanwhile in Alberta, where protests against COVID-19 restrictions continue on the province’s highways, Premier Jason Kenney said his government will next week announce its plan to lift remaining public health measures — including its vaccine passport program — but said the move, while aligned with what demonstrators are asking for, is informed by an easing of strain on health care.

“No responsible government makes policy by negotiating with people engaged in such unlawful conduct. Period. Full stop,” said Kenney in a Facebook live. “We fully expect our law enforcement agencies to restore and maintain public safety and law and order.”

“While I sympathize with and agree with many of the messages being sent by convoy protests over the past week,” he went on to say, “let me just underscore that a society built on the rule of law cannot accept protests that block critical infrastructure, that disrupts communities and countless law-abiding citizens.

“My message to those who are frustrated about COVID policies is this: I hear you loud and clear. You are right to point to the damaging impact of restrictions.”

—Tara Losinski


Feb. 3, 2022

COVID “Ceasefire” Expected in Europe, Says WHO

The director of the World Health Organization’s Europe office was optimistic about a “ceasefire” in the battle against COVID-19 this spring due to lower severity of Omicron, coupled with high levels of immunization from vaccination and natural infection.

“This period of higher protection should be seen as a ceasefire that could bring us enduring peace,” said Dr. Hans Kluge at a media briefing Thursday.

Kluge said that deaths from the coronavirus are starting to plateau in Europe, and that the coming weeks — when transmission naturally drops due to warmer weather — this spring “leaves us with the possibility for a long period of tranquility and a much higher level of population defence against any resurgence in transmission.”

But keeping COVID in check will require continued immunization efforts — including boosters — that demand “a drastic and uncompromising increase in vaccine-sharing across borders” in Europe and beyond said Kluge.

Last week, Europe marked its highest single week total of new infections during the pandemic, with 12 million new cases reported. but Kluge said that despite the spike in cases, ICU admissions haven’t risen significantly.

With the Omicron wave considered to have peaked, some European countries  — including Britain, Denmark, Norway and, as of Thursday, Sweden — have dropped most of their remaining COVID restrictions.

Ending Trucker Convoy Protest May Take More Than Policing

Although protestors part of the trucker convoy calling for an end to COVID-19 public health mandates are said to have dwindled to hundreds in Ottawa, as CBC reports, a news release from senior convoy leaders said although they empathized with residents, they plan to remain in the nation’s capital “for as long as it takes.”

On Wednesday, Ottawa’s police chief, Peter Sloly, said measures beyond policing may be needed to end the “intolerable, unprecedented” protest. “This is a national issue, not an Ottawa issue,” he said. “I am increasingly concerned there is no policing solution to this.”

Options being considered to end the demonstration include requesting military aid, negotiation, a political response, a court injunction or the forced removal of protesters.

Sloly also said the situation in Ottawa is affected by the trucker blockade in Alberta, which began Monday at the U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta., and vice versa.

“What happens here affects there and what happens there affects here,” he said, adding that an intervention by RCMP in Alberta didn’t work. “They were not effective and they created additional … potentially life-threatening safety issues.”

—Tara Losinski


Feb. 1, 2022

Feds Seek to Procure More Rapid Tests

In an effort to respond to the shortage of COVID-19 rapid tests, the demand has overwhelmed supply during the Omicron wave, the federal government introduced Bill-C10 yesterday, legislation that would allow Health Canada to purchase up to $2.5 billion worth of tests for use across the country. “As COVID-19 remains a global threat, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the demand for rapid tests has increased worldwide,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos about the legislation.“This bill will allow Health Canada to buy the necessary rapid tests so that jurisdictions across the country can identify cases early, break the chain of transmissions, and reduce outbreaks.” Liberal House Leader Mark Holland has called on the opposition parties to help pass the bill as quickly as possible.

Health Officials Watching New Omicron Sub-Variant

Last week, Dr. Theresa Tam, federal chief public health officer, told reporters her department was tracking “very closely”  a new sub-variant of the Omicron virus. The latest threat, in this seeming endless pandemic, is known as BA.2, a a sub-lineage of the B.1.1.529 Omicron variant that has caused so much havoc this winter. Now, a Danish study that analyzed BA.2 infections in that country, is reporting that “Omicron BA.2 is inherently substantially more transmissible than BA.1, and that it also possesses immune-evasive properties that further reduce the protective effect of vaccination against infection.”  Tam, who noted that more than 100 cases of BA.2 have been identified in Canada, expressed hope that the new sub-variant wouldn’t be any more virulent than it’s predecessor, saying that there “doesn’t seem to be any specific increase in hospitalizations or the severe outcomes compared to BA.1.”

—Peter Muggeridge


Jan. 31, 2022 

Trudeau: “We are not intimidated” by Protestors

In a virtual news conference today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau harshly criticized the “hateful” actions of the anti-vaccine mandate trucker protestors that have disrupted the nation’s capital since Friday.

Speaking at noon, hours before Parliament was set to resume after its Christmas recess, Trudeau, who would normally have been answering questions on his party’s priorities for the upcoming session, was instead telling reporters how  “disgusted” he was by the behaviour of some protestors this weekend, referring to reports that protestors harassed local businesses, flew Confederate flags, displayed swastikas and defaced monuments.

Describing the protestors as a “fringe minority” who don’t represent most truckers, the prime minister said that “hate can never be the answer.” Striking a defiant note, he told the protestors: “We are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small-business workers and steal food from the homeless. We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags; we won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonour the memory of our veterans.”

While acknowledging that, “all Canadians have the right to express their opinion or disagreement with the government,” Trudeau said they don’t have the “right to shut down our democratic processes” or to “abuse, intimidate and harass” their fellow citizens who “are trying to go about their business and live their lives.”

This type of “hateful” protest, Trudeau said, “needs to stop.” The prime minister also reiterated several times that he would not meet with representatives from the protest who don’t “trust science or facts” or “go anywhere near protests that have expressed hateful rhetoric and violence towards their fellow citizens.”

Trudeau further called out politicians — including Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Peoples Party Leader Maxime Bernier — and said these protestors “exploit people’s fears” and he urged “responsible leaders to think carefully about where they stand and who they stand with.”

Trudeau, who was speaking at an undisclosed location in Ottawa where he and his family are staying during the protests, also thanked the 90 per cent of truckers who have received the vaccine for stepping up “to put food on our shelves and on our tables.”

—Peter Muggeridge

Trudeau Confirms COVID Positivity, to Address Anti-Mandate Protest

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and, so far, he’s feeling “fine.” In a press conference today, he told reporters that two of his children have now been diagnosed with COVID-19 but noted: “I feel well and have no symptoms.”

Trudeau, who has been isolating since Thursday past, was exposed to the virus by one of his children.

Later this morning the prime minister will address the ongoing protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions currently on its third day in Ottawa. He will make remarks and take questions virtually, and will be remotely in attendance for Monday’s first sitting of Parliament after the holiday break.

Authorities in Ottawa have recommended that residents avoid the downtown core again today, where organizers of the “freedom convoy” are reported to be planning a demonstration including speeches at Confederation Park, which borders Ottawa City Hall.

On Sunday, Mayor Jim Watson said protests were causing issues beyond the capital’s core.

“Quite frankly, [residents] feel they’re prisoners in their own home. And so my hope is that at some point, the police reach the conclusion that it’s time to have a serious discussion about moving these people on. They can’t keep blocking routes that are emergency routes, that are bus routes, that allow people to get in and out of the downtown core,” he told CBC.

“You have the right to protest, you’ve had your protest, please move on. Our city has to get back in normal stead.”

Police are reported to be investigating several incidents of desecration to monuments this weekend, including the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and a statue of Terry Fox. As CBC reports, at least one Confederate flag — often associated with racist and far-right movements — was spotted in the crowd, as were swastikas on a few flags and signs.

Tara Losinski


Jan. 28, 2022

Duclos Calls for Respectful, Peaceful Protest as Convoy Expected in Ottawa

With the so-called “freedom convoy” of truckers who oppose a vaccine mandate set to reach Ottawa this weekend, Canada’s health minister said that it isn’t the convoy Canadians should be talking about.

“We’re all on the same convoy to exit COVID-19 and we know that the best road to do that is the vaccination road,” said Jean-Yves Duclos at a federal update on COVID-19 Friday.

The convoy has gained attention and support as it’s crossed Canada, leaving from Vancouver Sunday, with drivers protesting the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers and other essential workers that took effect on Jan. 15.

But several trucking groups have condemned the protest, as CTV News reports, with the president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada expressing dismay earlier in the week.

“Our organization’s become very concerned about some of the rhetoric we’ve heard, hearing racist remarks comparing (the mandate) to Nazis and communism — things that are not comparable to what’s going on right now,” Mike Millian told CTV News on Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of men and women out there who have worked hard throughout this entire pandemic to keep our shelves stocked are essential supplies where you need them, including some that will be in this convoy. But we’re losing our message here if we’re associated with this kind of language, and it’s tarnishing the image of the entire industry,” he said.

Duclos today said that, over the past weeks, his government has repeatedly stressed the importance of respectful and peaceful protest.

“It’s important to remember that vaccines are not to punish people, but to protect people. … The threat is not vaccination, the threat is COVID-19. And the best tool against that threat is vaccination,” he said.

Tam: Canada Has Reached Its Peak; Thanks Vaxxed Transport Workers

Canada’s top doctor, speaking at the same federal COVID-19 briefing this morning, says that we’ve reached the peak of the Omicron wave, but that we will continue to see lagging indicators, including hospitalizations, rise.

“Although daily reported cases remain at record-high levels, and continue to underestimate the true number of infections, multiple indicators suggest infections have peaked at the national level,” said Dr. Theresa Tam.

“As of Jan. 26, the seven-day average case count of over 19,000 cases reported daily is a 28 per cent decrease compared to the previous week. nd incidence is declining across all age groups,” she confirmed.

Tam called for Canadians to stay up-to-date on their COVID vaccination, highlighting an update for children made Tuesday by Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Because, as NACI states, the number of children experiencing severe disease or requiring hospitalization is increasing due to large number becoming infected during this wave of the pandemic, it now recommends a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children five to 11 years of age who are moderately to severely immunocompromised, four to eight weeks after their second dose.

Tam addressed Canada’s vaccine rates, expressing gratitude to everyone who’s been immunized against COVID-19 — truckers getting a special call out by the chief public health officer.

“Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates, globally. Could our booster rates be improved, yes. But I want to thank everyone who has gotten vaccinated, including those in the transpiration industry.”

According to government tracking, 81.5 per cent of Canadians aged five and older have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 33.5 per cent of the population have received an additional dose.

—Tara Losinski


Jan. 27, 2022

Prime Minister Isolating After Learning of Exposure Wednesday Night

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s isolating for five days after learning Wednesday night that he’d been exposed to COVID-19.

The prime minister tweeted Thursday morning that he’d tested negative for the coronavirus, but that he’d be isolating for five days per public health rules.

“I feel fine and will be working from home,” he said. “Stay safe, everyone — and please get vaccinated.”

The prime minister did not reveal in his tweet how he was exposed to COVID-19. His isolation will mean that he will not be in-person on Monday as the House of Commons resumes after the holiday break,

New Long-Term Care Draft Guidelines Released

After a 21-month long review, an organization that develops health-care standards has released a draft of its new recommendations for Canada’s long-term care sector.

The proposed guidelines made public Thursday are available for review until March 27, with the Health Standards Organization (HSO) saying feedback is welcome on the draft National Long-Term Care Services Standard.

“I think a lot of the standard has been written in that line of thinking, about what have we experienced and what further things we need to do in the standard to have avoided a lot of what we had been witnessing over and over again during this pandemic,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, HSO’s long-term care services technical committee chair, in a virtual media briefing ahead of the document’s release.

Sinha noted that 51 per cent of COVID-related deaths in Canada, now at more than 30,000, have occurred in LTC. He hopes the new guidelines will provide a “clear blueprint” to enable the federal government, provinces and territories to move long-term care “to where all Canadians are demanding it to go.”

Changes to the services standard include defining what is a designated support person, caregiver or essential caregiver: “A person or persons chosen by a resident to participate in the resident’s ongoing care,” but not a member of the LTC’s staff.

The draft document goes on to say: “Residents have the right to include or not include any of their designated support persons in any aspect of their personal and other care, and to change who they wish to identify as a designated support person,”

This would suggest that, unlike during lockdowns throughout the pandemic, these designated persons would be permitted to continue their care and visits through states of emergency.

As health comes under the jurisdiction of provinces and territories, the adoption of the new standard would not necessarily be uniform across the country. However, as a Global News report notes, the Liberal government has pledged to develop a Safe Long-Term Care Act, backed by a $9 billion investment over five years — which Sinha takes as a sign that the LTC services standard could be legislated by the federal government.

“I think certainly Ottawa’s significant commitment to improving long-term care with hard dollars pledged … gives a stronger level of interest in these standards and the work that we’ve done to date,” he said.

England Lifts Most Remaining COVID Restrictions

England has returned to Plan A, lifting most of its remaining measures against COVID-19, including masking and vaccine passes.

As of Thursday, masks are no longer required by law anywhere in England, although the government advises people to “consider wearing a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces.”

And entry to a nightclub and other large venue no longer requires proof of vaccination. This follows the dropping last week of guidance for face coverings in classrooms and advice that people work from home — measures put in place in December to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

England’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the country’s vaccine rollout, testing and development of antiviral treatments combine to make “some of the strongest defences in Europe,” allowing a “cautious return” to normality.

But he added that “as we learn to live with COVID, we need to be clear-eyed that this virus is not going away.”

Daily cases in the country have fallen to under 100,000 in recent days from a peak of over 200,000 at the start of the month. And officials report that 84 per cent of people over 12 in the U.K. have had their second vaccine dose, and that of those eligible, 81 per cent have received a booster shot.

Although no longer the law, some retailers — including national grocery store chain Tesco — and public transport operators say they will continue to ask people to wear masks.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said masks will remain mandatory on Transport for London services, calling on people to “do the right thing”

—Tara Losinski


Jan. 26, 2022

Reverse Vaccine Mandate for Truckers, Urges Small Business Association 

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is urging the federal government to reverse its policy that bans unvaccinated truck drivers from entering Canada.

“Small businesses were already facing a major supply chain crunch and cost increases on everything from fuel to building materials. This border policy threatens to exacerbate those issues at a time when small businesses can’t handle any additional costs or uncertainty,” said CFIB President Dan Kelly.

The CFIB represents 95,000 small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada, including roughly 500 in the trucking sector.

In a report published in December, the CFIB noted that the transportation industry has been one of the hardest hit by labour shortages, with 68 per cent of businesses in the sector unable to find enough staff for current operations or to expand.

And in its latest survey, conducted Jan. 18 to 21, the association reports that rising prices (81 per cent) and supply chain challenges (70 per cent) were the biggest issues facing members heading into 2022.

“We’re already seeing major delays for necessary supplies. Two years into the pandemic, it’s time for governments to stop enacting rules that create unnecessary roadblocks to small business recovery and instead focus on helping them address these problems,” said Corinne Pohlmann, Senior Vice-President of National Affairs at CFIB.

Canadians Feeling as Lonely, Depressed and Anxious as Early in Pandemic

A report released Tuesday by Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) suggests that Canadians are more anxious and are feeling more depressed and lonely than they have since early in the pandemic.

“After all of the ups and downs of the pandemic, in terms of the overall mental health of Canadians, in many ways we are right back to where we were two years ago,” said Dr. Hayley Hamilton, survey co-lead and senior scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.

“With Omicron in full force during this survey period, the relatively lower levels of mental distress reported last summer when the vaccine rollout was in full swing are now a distant memory for a lot of people.”

The survey, of 1,004 adults 18 and older from Jan. 7 to 11, is the last of nine in a series on Canadians’ health and substance abuse during the pandemic.

More than 25 per cent of participants reported feeling moderate to severe anxiety — up from 19 per cent in July 2021; about 24 per cent reported feelings of loneliness, compared to 18.8 per cent last summer; and roughly 22.3 per cent of people reported having feelings of depression, compared to 18.6 per cent last summer.

Younger people, between 18 and 39 years old, reported the highest levels of anxiety, 33.5 per cent, loneliness, 29.1 per cent, and feelings of depression, 27.7 per cent.

Overall, women reported the most significant increases in all three compared to men, while front line workers reported “large increases in adverse mental health symptoms,” with 37 per cent reporting moderate to severe anxiety, compared to 23.5 per cent last summer, and 35.7 per cent reported feelings of depression, up from 24.8 per cent.

“While people are incredibly resilient, as this pandemic wears on it’s the people working on the front lines who are among the most affected,” said Samantha Wells, senior director of the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH.

The need for mental health support has also increased, from 19.5 per cent the summer prior to nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents saying they needed services to cope with the pandemic in the past year, but were unable to receive them.

Austria Lifting Lockdown for Unvaxxed, One Day Ahead of National Vaccine Mandate

A lockdown on the untaxed, in place since November, will be lifted in Austria next Monday — one day before a COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect in the country.

On Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said the lockdown, “a measure that many people complained about, but that was unavoidable for health policy reasons,” was no longer needed because there was no longer a threat of hospital intensive care units being overstretched.

On Feb. 1, Austria will implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all adults — the first European jurisdiction to do so other than the Vatican City — which officials say is necessary as vaccination rates remain low, with 75.4 per cent of the population full vaccinated.

Brazil Postpones Carnival Amid Omicron Surge

Omicron is causing a surge of COVID-19 in Brazil, and officials have postponed the country’s Carnival celebrations as a result.

As CNN reports, in a joint statement from their health departments on Friday, the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro announced the postponement of their official Carnival parades because of the spread of the variant.

Scheduled to take place between February 25 and March 5, the new date for the parades will be in April, although no exact dates were given.

The joint statement cite a sharp increase in COVID cases in both cities, with São Paulo reporting confirmed infections jumping from 9,476 to 18,513 over the last two weeks of December, while Rio de Janeiro saw cases increase from 1,113 to 9,752 in just seven days over the same period.

By the first week of January cases had climbed to 40,979 in São Paulo and 50,857 in Rio de Janeiro.

—Tara Losinski


Jan. 25, 2022

Trudeau Slams “Fear Mongering” Over COVID Vaccine Mandate for Truckers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday accused conservative politicians of stoking fear that COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers are exacerbating supply chain disruptions and fuelling inflation.

The United States imposed a mandate, meant to aid the fight against the fast spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus, on Jan. 22, while Canada‘s started on Jan. 15. The trucking industry has warned the measure will take thousands of drivers off the roads during what is already a dire labor shortage in the industry.

Alberta’s conservative provincial leader, Jason Kenney, called for a pause of the mandate last week, and on Monday posted pictures on Twitter of empty shelves in supermarkets, calling for “immediate action” by both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments.

“This is turning into a crisis,” Kenney wrote.

“I regret that the Conservative Party and conservative politicians are fear mongering to Canadians about the supply chain, but the reality is that vaccination is how we’re going to get through this,” Trudeau told reporters when asked about supply chain disruptions resulting from the policy.

Pierre Poilievre, finance critic for the main federal opposition Conservative Party, last week called the requirements a “vaccine vendetta against our hardworking truckers” that will drive up inflation and result in “empty shelves” at stores.

Trudeau has resisted industry pressure to delay the mandate, saying everyone should be vaccinated and Canada is aligned with the U.S., its largest trading partner. More than two-thirds of the $650 billion in goods traded annually between Canada and the U.S. travels on roads.

Canada‘s inflation rate hit a 30-year high of 4.8 per cent in December and economists said the vaccine mandate may contribute to keeping prices higher for longer. In the U.S., inflation surged seven per cent on a year-on-year basis in December, the largest rise in nearly four decades.

Canadian Manufactures & Exporters President and Chief Executive Dennis Darby said he and other manufacturing lobbies spoke with Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne on Friday about problems caused by the vaccine mandate.

Manufacturers are already seeing delays and price increases, Darby said.

“Our supply chain in North America is a very, very efficient supply chain, but it’s not very resilient,” Darby said in an interview on Monday. “It doesn’t have a lot of slack.”

After the meeting with Champagne, Darby’s group and some 30 other trade associations called for concrete action to tackle supply chain problems, including reversing the trucker inoculation mandate.

A convoy of truckers started off from Vancouver on Sunday on its way to protest the mandate in the capital city of Ottawa.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bill Berkrot)


Pfizer and BioNTech Launch Trial of Omicron-Targeted COVID Vaccine

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE said on Tuesday they started a clinical trial to test a new version of their vaccine specifically designed to target the COVID-19 Omicron variant, which has eluded some of the protection provided by the original two-dose vaccine regimen.

Banking on volunteers in the U.S., the companies plan to test the immune response generated by the Omicron-based vaccine both as a three-shot regimen in unvaccinated people and as a booster shot for people who already received two doses of their original vaccine.

They are also testing a fourth dose of the current vaccine against a fourth dose of the Omicron-based vaccine in people who received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine three to six months earlier.

The companies plan to study the safety and tolerability of the shots in the more than 1,400 people who will be enrolled in the trial.

“While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with Omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address Omicron and new variants in the future,” Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said in a statement.

Depending on the amount of clinical trial data required by regulators, it may not be possible to realize a current plan to launch an Omicron-targeting vaccine by the end of March, BioNTech said.

Pfizer has said that two doses of the original vaccine may not be sufficient to protect against infection from the Omicron variant, and that protection against hospitalizations and deaths may be waning.

Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a third dose of an mRNA vaccine like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has provided 90 per cent protection against hospitalization due to COVID-19.

Some countries have already started offering additional booster doses, but a recent study from Israel showed that while a fourth dose of an mRNA vaccine boosted antibodies, the level was not high enough to prevent infection by the Omicron variant.

(Reporting by Michael Erman and Ludwig Burger; Editing by Leslie Adler, Kirsten Donovan)


COVID Drives Record Annual Decline in Canadians’ Life Expectancy, Statistics Canada Reports

COVID-19 contributed to the biggest annual reduction in life expectancy on record in Canada in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, Statistics Canada said in preliminary findings released on Monday.

While COVID was the third-leading cause of deaths in 2020, Statscan said the impact from the pandemic also likely contributed indirectly with a rise in deaths due to factors such as delayed medical procedures and increased drug-use.

The findings were largely in line with an Oxford University study last year that said life expectancy in 2020 fell by more than six months annually in 22 out of the 29 countries the university looked at.

Life expectancy in Canada declined by about 0.6 years to 81.7 years in 2020, when authorities depended on lockdowns and other restrictive measures to combat virus infections.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on mortality in Canada, contributing to the largest annual decline in life expectancy” since 1921, when the current system of measuring mortality was set up.

The largest declines were observed in provinces including Ontario and Quebec, which together account for more than 60 per cent of Canada‘s population of about 38 million.

COVID-19 accounted for 5.3 per cent of all deaths in Canada in 2020, behind cancer (26.4 per cent) and heart disease (17.5 per cent).

A study released Monday by the Angus Reid Institute found that Canadians were fatigued, frustrated and anxious after having to deal with COVID for more than two years. About one-in-three Canadians also said they were struggling with their mental health, according to the study.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by David Ljunggren and Lisa Shumaker)



Jan. 24, 2022

Canadian Hospitals Strain as Omicron Hits Health Workers

After a year as an emergency department nurse at a busy Toronto hospital in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Aimee Earhart called it quits last week. She is moving to Florida for a short contract before getting work as a travel nurse for what she hopes will be double the salary.

“We’re just burnt out all the time,” said Earhart. She says she will miss her colleagues, and might have stayed if working conditions were better.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its highly contagious Omicron variant have made a challenging staffing situation in Canada’s hospitals worse.

Interviews with a dozen health-care workers, including eight current and former nurses, reveal a health system strained by a pandemic wave that hit at the worst possible time — sickness sidelining staff as more COVID-19 patients than ever need hospitalization, forcing health workers exhausted by two unrelenting years to take on more work.

Hospitals have been asking staff to forego holidays or take on overtime shifts.

Canadians take pride in their public health system. But by failing to adequately invest in it, critics say, governments left it vulnerable to the ravages of a years-long public health emergency. If health workers leave and are not replaced — thanks to training and certification backlogs, capped wages or the perception of a punishing profession — that could hurt health system capacity.

Job vacancies in Canada’s health and social assistance sector increased by 78.8 per cent between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2021, according to Statistics Canada.

Ontario’s government, which has come under fire for capping the salaries of some public employees, including nurses, before the pandemic, said in a statement it added 6,700 health care workers and staff since the pandemic began and planned to add another 6,000 by March. It did not clarify whether this was a net increase.


“I Just Didn’t Have Any More to Give”


Lindsay Peltsch knew she had to quit when she stopped wanting to bathe her patients.

“I still did that but I didn’t get the same sense of satisfaction anymore,” she said. “It seems small but it’s a big deal because people’s dignity is a big part of what we do.”

Peltsch worked for 12 years as a pediatric nurse, 10 of them at SickKids hospital in Toronto. She fell in love with nursing but the strain became too much, she said.

Fully staffed shifts became a rarity. One of her last ER shifts was 10 nurses short. She also feels there is a lack of respect for the profession.

“I just got to a point where I just didn’t have any more to give.”

A SickKids spokesperson said that the hospital “has experienced challenges related to staffing” but was not aware of critical care unit shifts being short 10 nurses.

Praveen Nakesvaran and his respiratory therapist colleagues at Humber River Hospital have taken on roles normally filled by nurses when they prone COVID-19 patients — rolling them, tubes and all, gingerly onto their stomachs in hopes that will boost lung function.

“Usually we’re just at the head of the bed: We make sure the tube is secure,” Nakesvaran said. “Now we’re kind of doing the nursing jobs, as well.”

Suzi Laj an intensive care unit manager at the hospital says she knows morale has been an issue and has sought to address it through everything from daily huddles to bringing in chaplaincy staff. They are “trying to keep them hopeful and, you know, supporting them … but their resilience is really wearing,” she said.

Public health experts say Omicron’s peak may be approaching in Canada, and Ontario announced plans last week to loosen restrictions. But for now the health worker crunch remains.

Some provinces have made provisions for health care workers to return to work soon after testing positive for COVID-19; Ontario is letting internationally trained nurses, who often face hurdles and long waits before being able to practice in Canada, get on-the-job experience in hospitals.

Manitoba, meanwhile, said it will send hundreds of patients to get procedures in North Dakota because its hospitals lack capacity.


“We Are Not Asking for an Easier Job”


When one Montreal ER nurse came down with a bad case of laryngitis during a shift, she felt torn between staying at work to help her colleagues and going home to rest and wait for COVID-19 test results, she told Reuters.

The young nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of work reprisals, said she was encouraged to complete her shift since her co-workers badly needed the help.

“It was really more guilt than anything,” she said.

“You feel like you’re leaving those who are working in a really tough spot.”

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, gets calls from nurses across the province wondering how they will cope. “All the hospitals are scrambling.”

It translates, she said, to “unsafe care.”

When Peltsch talks to her former co-workers, “they’re like, ‘Don’t come back.’ … A resilient group of people is starting to crumble,” she said.

“We are not asking for an easier job. We are asking to be able to do the hard job we signed up for safely.”

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)


Do Not Assume COVID Pandemic Reaching “End Game,” Warns WHO

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday that it was dangerous to assume the Omicron variant would herald the end of COVID-19’s acutest phase, exhorting nations to stay focused to beat the pandemic.

“It’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant and that we are in the end game,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a WHO executive board meeting of the two-year pandemic that has killed nearly 6 million people.

“On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”

Though Omicron has sent total cases soaring to nearly 350 million, its less lethal impact and the increasing prevalence of vaccines has led to optimism in some parts that the worst of the pandemic may have passed.

Tedros, the WHO’s first African head who is running unopposed for a second term, urged discipline and unity in combatting the coronavirus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its third year and we are at a critical juncture,” he told a news conference earlier. “We must work together to bring the acute phase of this pandemic to an end. We cannot let it continue to drag on, lurching between panic and neglect.”


Germany Biggest Donor


Countries must maximize strategies and tools already available, such as testing and inoculation, for the global health emergency to end this year, he said.

Tedros’ bid for a second term received a boost when the WHO shelved a decision on his native Ethiopia’s request to investigate accusations of links to rebel forces.

He told board members he was seeking an overhaul of the agency’s funding model, with Germany now the largest donor, supplanting Washington which had accused the WHO of pro-China bias under former President Donald Trump’s administration.

The United States is resisting a financing proposal that would make the U.N. health body more independent, raising doubts about the Biden administration’s long-term support.

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Paul Carrel; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Cawthorne)


Truckers Fighting Vaccine Mandate March to Canadian Capital

A convoy of truckers started their march from Vancouver on Sunday to the Canadian capital city of Ottawa protesting the government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for truckers, which the industry says would create driver shortages and fuel inflation.

Truckers under the banner Freedom Convoy 2022 had raised $2.7 million by Sunday through a gofundme campaign to fight the mandate. The funds raised would be used to help with the costs of fuel, food and lodgings, the gofundme page said. The convoy is expected to reach Ottawa on Jan. 29.

The trucking industry is vital to ensure smooth flow of goods since more than two-thirds of the $650 billion in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on roads.

But as many as 32,000 — or 20 per cent — of the 160,000 Canadian and American cross-border truck drivers may be taken off the roads due to the mandate, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates.

The CTA, however, said in a statement on Saturday it does not support any protests on public road ways and the only way to cross the border on a commercial truck is by getting vaccinated.

Canada imposed the vaccine mandate for the trucking industry from Jan. 15, under which unvaccinated Canadian truckers re-entering Canada from the United States must get tested for COVID-19 and quarantine themselves.

Driver shortages are further expected to fuel red-hot inflation which is running at a three-decade high, industry lobby groups gave said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has resisted industry pressure to delay the mandate since it was first announced in November.

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Himani Sarkar)


U.S. Judge Blocks Biden’s Federal Employee COVID19 Vaccine Mandate

A federal judge in Texas ruled on Friday that President Joe Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID19 and blocked the government from disciplining employees who failed to comply.

Biden issued an order requiring about 3.5 million workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22 barring a religious or medical accommodation – or else face discipline or firing.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown said the question was whether Biden could “require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment. That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.”

Brown, based in Galveston and appointed by former President Donald Trump, said the government could protect public health with less invasive measures, such as masking and social distancing.

The ruling is the latest in a series of court decisions to go against government vaccine requirements.

In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the president’s COVID19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, a policy the conservative justices deemed an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans. The court allowed a separate federal vaccine requirement for healthcare facilities.

A third major vaccine requirement aimed at employees of federal contractors was blocked by a federal judge in December.

The Biden administration has struggled to contain COVID19, which has killed more than 800,000 people in the United States and weighed heavily on the economy.

Many large employers such as United Airlines and Tyson Foods Inc have touted their success in using mandates to get nearly all staff vaccinated against COVID19.

The Supreme Court ruling that blocked the mandate for larger businesses prompted some employers, including Starbucks, to abandon vaccine requirements for staff.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Diane Bartz; writing by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Howard Goller)


Australia COVID Deaths Mount as Return to School Threatens New Omicron Peak

Australia recorded another surge of COVID19 deaths on Monday as an outbreak of the highly contagious Omicron variant peaked, and authorities warned numbers could rise further when schools return from end-of-year holidays next week.

The world No. 13 economy is trying to strike a balance between reopening after two years of movement restrictions and coping with the highest numbers of deaths and cases of the pandemic.

Authorities say a rollout of a vaccine booster will reduce deaths, and point to a stabilisation in hospitalisation numbers as a sign the flare-up has reached its worst.

The country on Monday reported 58 deaths, most of them in its three most populous states – New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland – in line with the previous day’s count but still among the highest of the pandemic.

The total number of new cases, 40,681, was well below peaks nearly three times that amount earlier this month.

“Our assessment indicates that the spread of COVID virus is slowing, our situation is stabilising and while we expect to see an uptick in transmissions associated with schools going back this could be mitigated by the actions of you as individuals,” NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told a news conference.

“Getting those boosters will help us,” she added.

More than nine in 10 Australians aged over 12 have had two doses of coronavirus vaccine — a statistic health experts say has kept the country’s death rate relatively low – but far fewer have had a third dose which is seen as a guard against Omicron.

Though all Australian states are resisting a return to lockdown, most have reintroduced social distancing measures and mandatory mask-wearing to slow transmission. But they are divided on whether and how to manage a return to school after lengthy periods of remote learning.

Students in NSW and Victoria will have to wear masks and receive regular rapid antigen tests when they return to in-person classes next week. Queensland however postponed the return to school to Feb. 7 to avoid a spike in transmission.

“The peak does not mean the end,” Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said, warning of a “possible extension of the peak” when schools return.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates)



Jan. 21, 2022

Moderna Found to Have Lower Risk of Breakthrough Infections Compared to Pfizer 

A new study has found that those who received a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are at less risk for breakthrough infections than those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

breakthrough infection is when an individual tests positive for COVID-19 more than 14 days after receiving the recommended two doses of a vaccine.

The study — out of Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University published in the Journal of the American Medical Association — also found that those who received the Moderna shot were less likely to be hospitalized than Pfizer vaccine recipients when a breakthrough infection did occur.

Researchers looked at the electronic health records of more than 637,000 fully vaccinated patients from 63 health care organizations across the U.S., collecting and analyzing data on breakthrough infections, hospitalizations and death rates between July and November 2021. During that time, the Delta variant was the dominant strain in the U.S.

Breakthrough infections were included if the person had not previously contracted COVID-19 and did not receive a booster shot. Records included patients from diverse geographic backgrounds, ages, races and ethnicities, income levels, and insurance groups.

“Breakthrough COVID infections, hospitalization and mortality associated with the Delta variant were compared between recipients of Moderna mRNA vaccine and recipient of Pfizer mRNA vaccine while considering patient characteristics and the varying time since vaccination,” said Rong Xu, study author and Case Western bioinformatics professor, in a press release.

The study found that the “monthly incidence rate” of breakthrough cases was higher among those who received the Pfizer vaccine, compared to Moderna.

For instance, researchers reported that the data showed 2.8 breakthrough cases per 1,000 people in those vaccinated with Pfizer, compared to 1.6 cases in Moderna recipients for November 2021.

The study also found that the 60-day rate for hospitalizations for Moderna recipients was 12.7 per cent, compared to 13.3 per cent for those who received the Pfizer vaccine.

They found “no significant difference” in mortality rates among recipients of the two vaccines.

Authors of the study say more research is needed to “assess the results of booster doses and also the protection afforded especially vulnerable populations.”

Despite their findings related to breakthrough infections, authors of the study maintain that both vaccines are “highly protective against SARS-COV2 infection and especially against the most severe consequences of infection.”

—Andrew Wright


Ontario to Start Lifting COVID-Related Curbs, Quebec More Cautious

Canada‘s most populous province of Ontario has blunted transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant and will gradually ease restrictions on businesses from end-January, Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday.

The health care system is starting to stabilize in the wake of limitations imposed on Jan. 5, Ford told a news conference, saying Omicron cases should peak later this month.

“We can be confident that the worst is behind us and that we are now in a position to cautiously and gradually ease public health measures,” Ford said.

The province will allow restaurants, malls, and cinemas to operate with a 50% capacity limit from Jan. 31, before removing more curbs in February and March.

“While February will continue to present its own challenges, given current trends these are challenges we are confident we can manage,” Ford said.

In neighbouring Quebec, premier Francois Legault said he would maintain restrictions to help protect the health care system even though Omicron cases had peaked.

“I understand we are all tired, but lives are at stake. I’m currently under a lot of pressure to remove measures, but my duty is to be responsible to protect the lives of Quebecers,” he told a news conference.

Ontario and Quebec together account for around 61% of Canada‘s population of 38.2 million people.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Grant McCool)


Jan. 20, 2022

Ontario Announces Easing of Restrictions

Today, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the “positive news” he alluded to earlier this week, which, include a plan to gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions put in place early in the new year.

The easing of restrictions will take place in three stages, beginning on Jan. 31, with more changes planned for Feb. 21 and March 14.  Changes kicking in at the end of the month include replacing total business closures with capacity limits, including a return to indoor dining at 50 per cent capacity.

Gyms and other recreation facilities will also be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity. Gathering limits will be increased to 10 indoors and 25 outdoors.

Restrictions that shuttered businesses and prohibited indoor dining have been in place since Jan. 5, measures that were put in place to stop the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

On Wednesday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said she expects the Omicron-fuelled spike in COVID-19 cases to hit its peak this month in the province.

“We are starting to see glimmers of hope. The sacrifices you are making now mean we are beginning to see signs of stabilization,” Elliott said at a news conference.

Hospitalizations, she explained, will peak in the weeks following the peak in cases, which will still put a strain on the province’s health-care system.

Ontario is reporting 4,061 people in hospital with COVID-19, which is down 71 from Wednesday and 594 COVID-19 patients in ICU, which is five less than the previous day. Of those in hospital 55 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 45 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19.

Ontario health officials are reporting 75 deaths over the span of 19 days due to COVID-19, citing a data catch-up.

Ontario is reporting 7,757 new COVID-19 cases, but health officials say that number is an underestimate due to limited testing.

Prime Minister Urges Canadians of All Ages to Get Vaccinated

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is once again urging Canadians to roll up their sleeves as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the country.

Speaking at an update on the federal government’s response on Wednesday, his message to the approximate 6.5 million Canadians who remain unvaccinated was simple: “it’s better late than never.”

“We now have enough doses so that everyone can be vaccinated and even receive a booster dose, so there is no excuse. People must be vaccinated,” Trudeau said in French.

The country’s booster campaign is also lagging. Despite having enough doses for all eligible Canadians, just 35 per cent of the population have received their third jab, according to the federal health minister, who also joined the press conference Wednesday.

“We must continue to accelerate our vaccination efforts to trend towards universal coverage,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Trudeau also stressed the importance of vaccinating children between age five and 12. According to the government, only 48 per cent of the age group have received their first dose.

“We know as we get back to school, as kids are re-engaging, parents are worried about the health of their kids. Therefore, get them vaccinated. The vaccination rate for kids five to 12 is too low in Canada,” said Trudeau.

“Which means not only are kids more vulnerable, but all of society. Whether it’s teachers, whether it’s grandparents, whether its frontline health workers risking getting overwhelmed when those people start to get sick. We need to do what’s right… That means getting our kids vaccinated, it is safe and effective and the right way to get through this pandemic.”

Duclos also urged Canadians to stay prudent in following pandemic protocols.

“Though the risk of hospitalization is individually lower for Omicron, the sheer volume of cases will likely keep increasing hospital admissions. These forecasts underscore that we must continue to exercise considerable prudence in order to limit the coming surge,” said Duclos.

“We cannot overstate the importance of individual practices. Let us continue to wear a mask in public places, let us continue to limit our contacts, and most importantly, let us get vaccinated and when eligible get boosted as well.”

—Andrew Wright


Jan. 19, 2022

Alberta to Roll Out Fourth Dose for Immunocompromised

Alberta will soon offer a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to adults who are immunocompromised — which represents around 80,000 Albertans, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“Three doses is in fact considered to be a primary vaccine series for someone who is immunocompromised,” she said Tuesday, adding that a fourth dose for the group was similar to a third dose for those with normal immune systems.

Appointments for the fourth jab can be made starting Jan. 20 through Alberta Health Services or pharmacies by using the online booking system or by calling 811.

“We continue to rely on the latest research to guide our decision-making, and with evidence showing immunocompromised individuals benefit from a fourth dose, we are pleased to provide them,” Premier Jason Kenney wrote in a statement.

Saskatchewan Expecting Omicron Case Peak in Two to Four Weeks

Saskatchewan’s top doctor is expecting Omicron cases to peak in the next two to four weeks.

“Apart from school or work, we need to really minimize our non-essential contacts for the next two to four weeks,” Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said at a press conference Tuesday.

“That is going to be critical because once the hospitalizations peak, that is going to be due to exposures that happened two to three weeks earlier.”

She explained hospitalizations peak one to two weeks after cases plateau.

“So, unfortunately, we will see hospitalizations increase for another six weeks,” she added.

Ontario Expects to Reach Peak of Omicron Wave This Month

The Omicron-fuelled spike in COVID-19 cases is expected to reach its peak this month in Ontario, Health Minister Christine Elliott said Wednesday morning.

“We are starting to see glimmers of hope. The sacrifices you are making now mean we are beginning to see signs of stabilization,” Elliott said at a news conference.

She said hospitalization are also headed in the right direction, doubling around every two weeks — an improvement from earlier in the month when they were doubling every few days. Hospitalizations, she explained, will peak in the weeks following the peak in cases, which will still put a strain on the province’s health-care system.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, who joined the press conference, said that current restrictions appear to be slowing the transmission of the virus.

Premier Doug Ford has indicated that current restrictions, which include closing restaurants for indoor dining, capacity limits and closures, may be eased this week.

“We’ll have some positive news. I believe we’re going to make some announcements later this week about going back to other levels of restrictions,” Ford told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll on Tuesday.

Today, Ontario reported 4,132 people with COVID-19 in hospital, down 51 from the day before. The province has reported 53.4 per cent of those patients were admitted to hospital because of COVID-19, while 46.6 per cent were admitted for other reasons and tested positive once there.

Ontario has also reported 589 patients with COVID-19 in ICUs, which is the highest since June 5 — during the peak of the third wave of the pandemic in the province. They say 82.1 per cent of those people are in ICU for reasons directly linked to COVID-19, while 17.9 per cent were admitted for other reasons.

—Andrew Wright


British Columbia Extends COVID19 Curbs Until February, Gyms Allowed to Reopen

 British Columbia will allow gyms to open from Thursday, but other restrictions will stay in place until Feb. 16 as the healthcare system continues to be impacted by COVID19, the Canadian province’s top health official said on Tuesday.

The Pacific province had shut gyms and bars, and placed capacity limits on restaurants and events before Christmas when COVID19 cases started to spike due to the Omicron variant.

“After looking at the data … today I’m taking the cautious step of reopening gyms and exercise facilities with capacity limits and the continued use of the B.C. vaccine card,” Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry told reporters at a briefing.

B.C. had released data on Friday that suggested Omicron infections might have peaked, but new hospitalizations were still a concern as those were projected to continue rising this week.

Nationally, however, cases of the Omicron variant of COVID19 could surge in coming weeks, putting significant new strains on the healthcare system, Canada‘s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, said last week.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Sandra Maler)


WHO Says No Evidence Healthy Children, Adolescents  Need COVID19 Boosters

There is no evidence at present that healthy children and adolescents need booster doses of COVID19 vaccine, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a news briefing, she said that while there seems to be some waning of vaccine immunity over time against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus, more research needs to be done to ascertain who needs booster doses.

“There is no evidence right now that healthy children or healthy adolescents need boosters. No evidence at all,” she said.

Israel has begun offering boosters to children as young as 12, and the U.S. States Food and Drug Administration earlier this month authorized the use of a third dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15.

Last week Germany became the latest country to recommend that all children between ages of 12 and 17 receive a COVID19 booster shot. Hungary has also done so.

Swaminathan said the WHO’s top group of experts would meet later this week to consider the specific question of how countries should consider giving boosters to their populations.

“The aim is to protect the most vulnerable, to protect those at highest risk of severe disease and dying. Those are our elderly populations, immuno-compromised people with underlying conditions, but also healthcare workers,” she said.

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy and Manas Mishra; Editing by Mark Heinrich)


U.S. to Make 400 Million N95 Masks Available for Free to Fight COVID19 Pandemic

The U.S. government will make 400 million non-surgical N95 masks from its strategic national stockpile available for free to the public starting next week, a White House official said, marking the Biden administration’s latest effort to help curb the COVID19 pandemic.

The face masks will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers this week, the official said, and available for pickup late next week.

The move comes after President Joe Biden and his team faced criticism for not doing enough to foster masking or bolster testing as the Omicron variant raged across the country.

Addressing that criticism and the wave, the administration has made free tests available via a website that launched officially on Wednesday in addition to its announcement about deploying masks from the strategic reserve.

“This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history,” the official said.

“To ensure accessing these masks is easy and convenient, the administration is leveraging the federal retail pharmacy program and the federal community health center program, so that free masks are available at many of the same convenient and trusted locations Americans go to get vaccinated and boosted,” the official said.

The masks will be available at tens of thousands of pharmacies and thousands of community health centers with supplies available by the end of next week, the official said. “The program will be fully up and running by early February.”

Masks like the N95 that form a seal around the nose and mouth are considered especially effective at preventing virus spread. Last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that Americans wear the “the most protective mask” that they can.

Biden’s team previously said there is ample supply to share the masks.

Hospitals have recovered from the desperate N95 shortages of the early pandemic, but several executives told Reuters that healthcare supply chains remain fragile and that small and poorly funded hospitals are at most risk if Americans make N95s their “everyday” masks.

U.S. mask makers told Reuters they have the machines to make millions of N95s each month.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)


Jan. 18, 2022

Antiviral Drug Initial Supply Will “Not Be Great Anywhere”

Canada’s approval of Paxlovid, the new antiviral COVID-19 treatment, is encouraging, but concerns remain around the country’s rollout of the new drug.

“I think it will be an effective tool in high-risk individuals if they can get tested quick enough to be able to be in the window for therapeutic benefit,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, told CBC News.

“If you can get it to people fast enough to keep them from needing hospitalizations, then that basically solves the major problem that we’re facing.”

The two-drug antiviral regimen, which was nearly 90 per cent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness in trials, is meant to be taken at home for five days beginning shortly after the onset of symptoms.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, told CBC News Network on Monday that the drug’s approval is a “very promising development, but there’s still some work that lies ahead.”

“We also now, of course, need to distribute it to the provinces and to have the provinces work out how it’s actually going to be administered,” he said.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Monday the antiviral treatment would be in “high demand” and anticipated early supply would “not be great anywhere.”

She also said provinces and territories will manage distribution.

So far, Canada has received 30,400 treatment courses of Paxlovid, with 120,000 more expected to be delivered between January and March.

Ontario Reports Rise in Hospital Admission as Ford Plans to Ease Some Restrictions

The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 has increased to 4,183, while the ICU admission related to the virus hit 580.

From Monday’s report, that’s an increase of 296 hospitalizations and two patients in intensive care.

According to CTV News, of the patients currently in care, 53.5 per cent were admitted due to a COVID-19-related illness and 46.5 per cent tested positive after they were admitted for another reason.

In the ICU, 82.1 per cent of the patients were admitted for COVID-19, while 17.9 per cent tested positive after the fact.

The increases come a day after Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said he was encouraged by the slowing growth of cases in hospitals and ICUs, which he said may indicate a “plateau.”

“After 12 days of public health measures, we are making a dent on the number of people needing hospital care,” he told CP24.

The vaccination status of those in hospital include 2,050 fully vaccinated patients, 739 unvaccinated patients, and 195 partially vaccinated patients. The vaccination status of the remaining 1,199 patients is unknown, according to the government.

In the ICU, 196 patients are fully vaccinated, 195 patients are unvaccinated, and 17 patients are partially vaccinated. No vaccination information was provided for the remaining 172 patients.

The province reported 7,086 new cases of COVID-19 in the last day, but health officials have warned that those numbers are likely higher due to restrictions in testing access.

More than 5,400 of the reported cases were found in individuals who are fully vaccinated, while 1,087 were found in unvaccinated individuals. Partially vaccinated people account for 245 cases. The vaccination status of the remaining 314 cases is unknown.

Early in the new year, Ontario introduced new public health measures to combat the spread of Omicron and ease the strain on the province’s healthcare system, but Premier Doug Ford may be walking some of those restrictions back this week.

“We’ll have some positive news. I believe we’re going to make some announcements later this week about going back to other levels of restrictions,” Ford told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll on Tuesday.

Quebec Hospital Confirms COVID-Related Death of 4-Year-Old Girl

Quebec’s Health Minister has offered his condolences to the family of a 4-year-old girl, who died from “circumstances related to COVID-19.”

“This is incredibly sad news,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé wrote on social media. “I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of this little girl.”

The CHU de Québec — Université Laval network in Quebec City confirmed the child’s death in a statement Monday afternoon, but did not provide more details to maintain confidentiality.

As the Omicron variant spreads across the country, fatalities among children have remained extremely rare.

In November, Canada’s chief public health officer said a COVID-19 vaccine for toddlers and babies could be approved early in 2022, depending on the results of clinical trials.

—Andrew Wright

Jan. 17, 2022

Canada Has Approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 Oral Antiviral Treatment

Canada on Monday approved Pfizer Inc’s oral antiviral treatment for mild to moderate cases of COVID19 in people aged 18 and older but said supply shortages would keep doses from being made available immediately.

Infections and hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant have been rising in Canada, forcing provinces to put in restrictions and the federal government to support impacted businesses.

“(This) is particularly important, as access to easy to use treatments could help to reduce the severity of COVID19 in adults who become newly infected at high risk of progressing to serious illness,” said chief public health officer Theresa Tam.

Pfizer’s two-drug antiviral regimen, Paxlovid, was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to data from the company’s clinical trial.

It is meant to be taken at home for five days beginning shortly after onset of symptoms.

Ottawa said last month it had signed a deal with Pfizer for a million treatment courses, pending approval. But getting those supplies could face hurdles.

“While there is currently limited global supply of Paxlovid, we are working to firm up a delivery schedule with the intent of bringing treatment courses to Canada as quickly as possible,” Tam told a briefing.

Ontario, the most populous of the 10 provinces, is seeing signs that Omicron cases may have peaked, said chief medical officer Kieran Moore.

“I’m starting to have much more hope … the number of cases is decelerating instead of accelerating in terms of hospitalizations and (people admitted to) intensive care units,” he told an Ottawa radio station.

Official data show that as of Jan 8, 87.8 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and above had received two doses of a COVID19 vaccine.

The U.S. authorized the Pfizer treatment for people ages 12 and older last month.

Canada is still looking at whether to approve Merck & Co’s oral antiviral pill, molnupiravir, which had less impressive results than Paxlovid in its pivotal clinical trial.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)


Students in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia Return to School

Students in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia return to in-person learning this week, despite concerns from teachers and parents about the spread of the Omicron variant.

Students in the four provinces started the new year online in response to record-high case counts, but government officials say the benefits of returning to in-person learning outweigh the potential risks.

As for controlling the spread of Omicron, deploying rapid antigen tests and addressing air quality in schools are among the precautions governments are taking.

However, in Quebec, officials insist air quality is of little importance in preventing infection in schools.

“We’re convinced that, if the other measures are applied, the current air quality in schools is really not a major factor in terms of transmission,” said Dr. Yves Jalbert, the medical director of public health protection at the Health Department said in a technical briefing Friday, according to the Montreal Gazette.

“There’s always room for improvements, but not to the point of thinking we’re taking a risk by sending children back into schools. Far from it.”

The province also isn’t budging on their refusal to provide N95 masks to teachers.

“In everyday life, the N95 mask hasn’t really proven to be superior in most situations,” said Jalbert.

Newfoundland and Labrador to Stay in Alert Level 4

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Alert Level 4, which has placed limits on gatherings and capacity for businesses, will last at least another week, according to a Department of Health media release.

The Alert Level 4 was issued in early January after the province reported a single-day record of 519 new cases of COVID-19.

The department said the decision to uphold current measures was based on the epidemiology of the province. The province will reassess on Jan. 24.

On Sunday, the province reported its fifth COVID-19 death in a week. They also reported 384 new cases and a total of 12 people in hospital with COVID-19.

—Andrew Wright

Beijing Olympics Tickets Will Not be Publicly Sold Due to COVID19

Tickets for the Winter Olympics set to begin on Feb. 4 will be distributed to “targeted” groups of people and will not be sold to the general public, the organising committee said on Monday, in the latest setback to the Games inflicted by COVID19.

Organisers had said in September that there would not be any international spectators at the Games, under COVID19 prevention policies that have all but shut China’s borders to international travellers.

It cited the “severe and complex” COVID19 situation and the need to protect the safety of Olympics personnel and spectators in Monday’s announcement.

Local spectators who receive tickets must observe strict COVID19 prevention measures before, during and after attending Olympic events, the committee said. It did not give further details, or further specify how tickets would be distributed.

China, which has largely managed to curb local COVID19 infections, is scrambling to prevent the spread of scattered outbreaks of the highly infections Omicron variant just as the busy Lunar New Year travel period begins.

The Olympics, to be held in the Chinese capital and neighbouring Hebei province, will take place in a “closed loop” that will keep athletes and other Games personnel separated from the general Chinese public. Most participants will arrive on special charter planes.

Last month, North America’s National Hockey League said its players would not participate in the Olympic tournament in Beijing due to COVID19 disruptions of the league schedule.

(Reporting by Tony Munroe; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)


India’s Main Cities Record Sharp Fall in COVID19 Infections

India’s capital Delhi and financial hub Mumbai have reported a big fall in COVID19 infections in the past two days and most of those who contracted the virus have recovered at home, authorities said on Monday.

Mumbai’s daily new infections fell below 10,000 on Sunday for the first time since early this month, after touching an all-time high of 20,971 on Jan. 7. It reported 7,895 infections late on Sunday, Mumbai’s municipal corporation said.

Delhi’s cases have fallen consistently since hitting a peak of 28,867 on Jan. 13 and is expected to be fewer than 15,000 on Monday, for the first time since early January, the city government’s health minister told reporters.

Both cities have said more than 80% of their COVID19 hospital beds have remained unoccupied since the fast-transmitting Omicron variant led to a massive surge in cases from the start of the year.

“With very large numbers of sub-clinical, asymptomatic and undetected cases, it is difficult to pinpoint a peak by new cases,” Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine & Community Health at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said in an email.

“In this situation, monitoring hospitalisation is more prudent; today’s case can be next week’s hospitalisation.”

Other epidemiologists say a national peak in cases could come by early- or mid-February.

Experts have attributed the low hospitalisations to high levels of previous infections and vaccination India has fully vaccinated about 70% of its 939 million adults and hopes to give the primary two doses to another 70 million or so teenagers by next month.

The government has advised states to mainly ask only people with symptoms of COVID19 to get tested instead of random checks like earlier that badly stretched resources, especially in the last major wave in April and May when millions were infected and tens of thousands died.

India’s COVID19 infections rose by 258,089 in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Monday, taking the tally to 37.38 million – the most in the world after the United States.

Deaths rose by 385 – nearly 40% of them due to a delayed recording of previous fatalities in the southern state of Kerala – for a toll of 486,451. Only the United States and Brazil have reported more total COVID19 deaths.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das, Chandini Monnappa and Neha Arora; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Clarence Fernandez)


Jan. 14, 2022

Canada Expects Omicron Surge in Coming Weeks to Strain Health Care System

Canada will see a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in coming weeks which could put significant new strains on the healthcare system, chief public health officer Theresa Tam said on Friday.

Tam told a news briefing that scenarios suggested the wave might peak before receding into February.

New daily cases of COVID-19 have jumped to a record 37,500, which is most likely a drastic undercount of the true number, given constraints in testing capacity across the country, she added.

“A large surge of rapidly accelerating Omicron cases is forecast for Canada in the coming weeks,” Tam said.

Even though Omicron is less severe than the Delta variant it has replaced, it is much more infectious, and the sheer number of new hospitalizations “could result in significant levels of healthcare strain in the coming weeks,” she said.

More than 6.5 million eligible Canadians have had less than two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, she said, reiterating that the best way to avoid infection was to get inoculated.

Official data show that 87.6% of those aged 12 and older had received two shots as of Jan. 1.

The province of Quebec said on Thursday it was pressing ahead with a plan to levy a “health contribution” on adults refusing to get COVID-19 vaccinations, charging people at least C$100 to help contribute to increased running costs of the healthcare system.

Quebec said it is seeing signs that cases of Omicron may have peaked. Tam said it was too soon to say if this was true nationally.

“You can’t tell whether you’ve really reached a peak until after the peak is truly over … so we need to wait a little while to see if the trend continues on the downward trajectory,” she said.

(Reporting by David LjunggrenEditing by Paul Simao and Aurora Ellis)


Health Canada 7 to 10 Days From Decision on Pfizer Antiviral Drug

Health Canada should be ready to make an authorization decision about Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral treatment for COVID-19 in a week to 10 days, chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said Thursday, reports CP24.

But it’s still unclear when shipments will start or how much Canada will get at first as supply issues for the American-made drug have made it incredibly hard to get even it in the United States, where it was authorized before Christmas.

The drug prevents the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 from reproducing within a patient’s body. Pfizer’s clinical trial showed for high-risk patients it prevented hospitalizations by about 90 per cent.

Pfizer applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Nov. 22, and to Health Canada on Dec. 1.

The U.S. authorized it for use in patients at least 12 years old three weeks ago. The U.K. approved it Dec. 31.

Ontario ICU Patients Pass Key 500 Mark

Today Critical Care Services Ontario is reporting 510 adult COVID-19 related-critical illness (CRCI) patients in ICUs, passing the crucial 500 mark. (However, the province itself reports 527 patients in ICUs with COVID-19-related illness.) There were 289 CRCI patients were ventilated. There were 68 new adult admissions and 289 CRCI patients were ventilated. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 450.

Ontario health minister Christine Elliot reports that 80 per cent of patients admitted to the ICU were admitted for COVID-19 and 20 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19.

The province today reports 10,964 new cases of COVID-19, 10,964 patients hospitalized and 42 new deaths.

Toronto Geriatrician Calls for Military Assistance in Ontario LTC Homes

Today in Ontario there are 3,893 staff at LTC homes infected with COVID-19, the highest number ever during the pandemic, reports geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall in a tweet. “In LTC, we now have a pandemic of staffing shortages. Homes need emergency staffing, including military assistance.”

Quebec’s 10 p.m. Curfew to End on Monday

Quebec’s 10 p.m. curfew will no longer be in effect as of Monday, Jan. 17. as officials predict the province’s explosive Omicron wave is coming to its peak, reports CTV News. The premier also said he hopes that restaurants and other venues will be able to open in the coming weeks.

“Experts tell us that the new cases have peaked,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced at a Thursday press conference.

The Legault government announced the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew one day before New Year’s Eve.

The province also shut down bars, gyms, and indoor dining at restaurants in response to skyrocketing hospitalizations during the pandemic’s fifth wave. Those measures have not been lifted.

Legault said he hopes that restaurants and other venues will be able to open in the coming weeks.

The province did announce some measures would be lifted, such as the closure of non-essential stores on Sundays, which will come to an end in time for Jan. 23.

Ontario Approves Fourth Dose for Immune Comprised, Starting Today

Ontarians with compromised immune systems, including those on chemotherapy and dialysis, will qualify for fourth vaccinations starting today, providing they are 84 days past their third dose, the Toronto Star reports. The province’s chief medical officer made the announcement Thursday.

Dr. Kieran Moore also warned that the closures of restaurants for indoor dining, gyms, movie theatres, plus other restrictions could remain in place beyond their scheduled expiry date as Ontario sets daily records in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“I can’t guarantee the 26th,” Moore said of the January date for lifting restrictions imposed earlier this month. “We need as a society to continue to protect the health-care system.”

The director of the science table advising Premier Doug Ford and Moore said mobility of Ontarians is down, COVID-19 test positivity rates are down and hospital admission rates are slowing, and those are all good signs.

“If we’re a little bit lucky, we could start to see hospital occupancy plateauing next week,” said Dr. Peter Juni, who stressed it is “too early” to ease restrictions on businesses while the province gauges the impact of reopening schools on Monday.

Reversal of Vaccine Mandate for Cross-Border Truckers Reversed

A day after the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) said an incoming vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing from the United States would not be going into effect this week, the federal government said the reversal was all a mistake, reports the Globe and Mail.

On Wednesday evening, the CBSA’s spokesperson said Canadian truck drivers would not have to quarantine if they are unvaccinated or had received only one dose.

But the ministers said beginning Saturday, Canadian truckers must be vaccinated if they want to avoid quarantine and molecular tests. Unvaccinated American truckers will be turned back at the border.

The United States is preparing to impose similar restrictions on Canadian truckers, expected to take effect on Jan. 22.

Sask. Premier Scott Moe Tests Positive for COVID-19

Premier Scott Moe said he had no idea he might have had COVID-19 as he met with reporters on Wednesday, CTV News reports.

He took a routinely scheduled rapid test Thursday morning and it showed positive.

The premier tweeted “I’m feeling fine and will be self-isolating and working from home for the next five days.”

Moe removed his mask at the news conference, which is permissible for television purposes. A sign language interpreter stood a few feet away and also removed her mask. The province’s chief medical health officer kept his mask on as did everyone else present.

Earlier this week, the premier attended a school function in La Loche. He tested negative before embarking on the trip north.

Moe is triple vaccinated and is the second premier to test positive in the past two weeks. New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs has also had to self-isolate.

Jason Kindrachuk, a researcher into emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said no one can let their guard down.

“I think the major message is that right now Omicron is moving through our populations exceedingly quickly. People that are vaccinated still have to take precautions.”

Teachers in France Strike Over Chaotic COVID-19 Strategy for Schools

Tens of thousands of French teachers angry with the government’s COVID-19 rules walked off the job on Thursday and took to the streets to demand better protection for pupils and staff against infection, reports Reuters.

New testing requirements announced on the eve of the return from Christmas holidays and changed twice since coalesced the anger.

A joint statement by 11 unions blamed the government for what it called a “chaotic situation” due to “incessant changes of footing, unworkable protocols and the lack of appropriate tools to guarantee (schools) can function properly.”

The government stood by its policy to keep classes open and requiring all pupils in contact with an infected person to get tested three times.

Infections have surged in schools as France has set records with close to 370,000 new daily cases, sending families scrambling to get their children tested.

Good News: Sharp Decline in COVID-19 Wastewater Levels in Boston Area

New data suggest omicron cases may have peaked in the Boston area. In December, the level of COVID-19 found in the metro area’s sewage rose extremely rapidly. Now, those numbers show a sharp decline, reports WBUR.

“When I refreshed the website and saw it, I literally punched the air and let out a hoot because it was something I’ve been hoping for,” said Bill Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

The size of the decline, as well as the fact that it was consistent across the area, makes Hanage confident that the spike is over.

Hanage said the steep decline likely means major disruptions from illness and quarantines will subside. However, he warned that the strained health-care system will feel the repercussions of the Omicron variant for the next month or so.

More Good News: U.K.’s Daily Cases Drop to Lowest Level Since Dec. 27

The number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen to the lowest level since Dec. 27, with a further 109,133 lab-confirmed cases recorded in the U.K. as of 9 a.m. today.

The figures represent a fall of 16 per cent from the 129,587 new cases which were recorded yesterday.

The government also said a further 335 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 151,342.

It comes as Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that self-isolation is to be cut by a day to a minimum of five full days in England, as ministers start to relax COVID rules.

Under the new rules, from Monday those isolating after testing positive for, or showing COVID symptoms, will be freed from the start of their sixth day, as long as they have a negative lateral flow result that day, and the day before.

Australia Revokes Novak Djokovic’s Visa for a Second Time

The Novak Djokovic saga continues as the Australian government on Friday cancelled his visa for a second time, saying the Serbian tennis star may pose a risk to the community as he is unvaccinated for COVID-19, reports Deutsche Welle.

Djokovic was first denied entry to Australia last week. He claims to have tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 16 and therefore does not need a coronavirus vaccine to enter the country.

The Australian Open men’s tournament is due to start on Monday.

When Djokovic announced his plans to travel to Australia with a medical exemption earlier this month, many Australians responded with anger and frustration.

Australia, and Melbourne in particular, has witnessed some of the strictest lockdowns over the last two years, in order to ward off the coronavirus.

Critics not only targeted Djokovic for being unvaccinated, but also blamed the Australian government’s handling of the situation.

Judy Gerstel


Jan. 13, 2022

Good News? Latest Ontario ICU Numbers Not Increasing Exponentially

Statistician Bill Comeau wonders whether there may be a sliver of good news.

He tweets, “Opinion: Is there something to recent signals? Possibly, especially the harder evidence with new ICU admits which lag infections. They have clearly fallen off the consistent exponential growth trend over recent days.”

Ontario today reported 9,909 new daily cases of COVID-10, 3,630 hospitalized and 500 in ICU.

Critical Care Services Ontario today is reporting 485 adult COVID-19 related critical illness patients in ICUs. 274 CRCI patients were ventilated. There were 55 new adult admissions. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 425.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation continues to worsen in Ontario LTC homes, according to geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall. The change in the last 24 hours includes 20 more outbreaks for a total of 389 reported by Public Health Ontario, 166 more resident active cases for a total of 1,905, 355 new staff active cases for a total of 3,609 and nine new resident deaths.

Premier: “It’s up to Manitobans to look after themselves”

As the Omicron variant roars across the province, Manitoba’s premier has conceded the public — and not the government — must be responsible for limiting its spread, reports the Winnipeg Free Press.

“This virus is running throughout our community and it’s up to Manitobans to look after themselves,” Premier Heather Stefanson told reporters Wednesday.

“We must all learn to live with this virus; there must be a balance.”

With a record 454 COVID-19 patients in hospital reported Wednesday — up from 251 on Jan. 4 — and the novel coronavirus running amok, the premier was asked if public health officials had recommended more stringent measures to try and contain the spread.

Ottawa Reverses Vaccine Mandate for Truckers

Canada will allow unvaccinated Canadian truckers to cross in from the U.S., backing off from a decision requiring all truckers to be inoculated against the coronavirus, Canada’s border agency said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Prime Minister Trudeau had faced pressure from the main opposition party and trucking lobby to drop the vaccine mandate for truckers, due to come into force on Saturday, saying it could result in driver shortages, disrupt trade and drive up inflation.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said that unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated Canadian truck drivers arriving at the Canada-U.S. border will remain exempt from pre-arrival, arrival and post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements.

However, truckers from the United States will still need to be vaccinated or they will be turned back at the border from Jan. 15.

A Canadian government source said the decision was taken to ensure smooth supply chains.

Food and agricultural products could have felt the squeeze. The reliance on U.S. products is especially high in winter.

Ontario Study: Less Self-Harm, Overdose Among Teens, Young Adults

Among adolescents and young adults, the initial 15-month period of the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with a relative decline in hospital care for self-harm or overdose, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Open Network. Researchers evaluated emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths from self-harm or overdose among adolescents and young adults born in Ontario between 1990 and 2006.

Ontario Schools Will Report Outbreaks When 30 per cent Are Absent

The Ontario government says parents will only be notified of a potential COVID-19 outbreak when approximately 30 per cent of staff and students in the school are absent, but data on absentee rates will be available to the public before that threshold is met, reports CTV News.

When student and staff absenteeism in an individual school reaches approximately 30 per cent from its baseline, it will trigger the principal to notify local health officials, the province said Wednesday.

At that point, a joint letter from the local medical officer of health and the principal would be sent to the school community.

The 30 per cent threshold will not automatically trigger a school closure, but a pivot to remote learning could be considered at that time.

Parents will not be notified of each COVID-19 case or exposure within their child’s school.

Parents with concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 in their child’s school will have access to the school’s absentee rate, prior to the 30 per cent threshold being met. That information was not included in a news release on the subject issued by the government, but was clarified by the Ministry of Education Wednesday afternoon.

That data will be made available on the province’s website on a regular basis starting Jan. 24, according to a spokesperson for the ministry.

The Ontario government also announced it will give two COVID-19 rapid tests to each student and staff member when in-person learning returns.

Poll: Most Canadians Think Catching COVID-19 Is Inevitable

A new poll from the Angus Reid Institute released today found that 55 per cent of Canadians expect to get COVID-19 eventually, regardless of the precautions they take, reports CTV News. The percentage rises to 63 per cent among parents of children in grade school.

Regionally, 64 per cent of Manitobans believe they will catch COVID-19 eventually, while just 37 per cent of people in Saskatchewan believe they will catch the virus.

Some health officials do agree that there’s a chance most Canadians will catch COVID-19 at some point.

Given the sense of inevitability, a relatively high number of Canadians believe all COVID-19 restrictions should end and those at risk can manage themselves.

In total, 39 per cent of Canadians believe restrictions should end, while 62 per cent of Conservative voters and 89 per cent of unvaccinated people believe it’s time to remove restrictions.

Florida and Texas are two of the notable areas that have already taken this approach to handling the pandemic. More than 10 million people have contracted COVID-19 in both states combined, along with nearly 140,000 deaths, according to tracking data from Google.

U.S. FDA Head: “Most People Are Going to Get Covid” 

Earlier this week, Food and Drug Administration head Janet Woodcock told a U. S. Senate panel that “most people are going to get covid,” the Washington Post reported. It might be hard to process, she said, but it’s important to acknowledge as the country tries to chart a new path forward. “What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function, transportation, you know, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens,” she said. “I think after that will be a good time to reassess how we’re approaching this pandemic.”

Military to Help in U.S. Hospitals, Biden Will Announce

U.S. President Joe Biden will announce today that the federal government is deploying additional medical teams to six states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico — to help hospitals struggling to respond to the spike in cases of the Omicron variant, a White House official told the Washington Post.

It’s one of the actions Biden plans to highlight in a speech from the White House on the administration’s “whole of government COVID-19 surge response,” much of which is already underway. He is slated to be joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and a Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator.

The Biden administration is deploying 1,000 military personnel, to begin arriving next week at hospitals across the country, to “enhance surge efforts,” according to the White House official.

Survey: Staffing at U.K. Care Home 30 per cent Less Than Needed

Care homes are missing a third of the staff they need and more than one in four have closed their doors to new admissions in a deepening labour crisis that is “putting safety and dignity at risk,” according to the National Care Forum (NCF), which ran a survey of its not-for-profit care-home members.

With thousands of care workers off sick with COVID, on top of a rising number of vacancies, the situation in social care has become “grim, difficult and relentless,” reports The Guardian.

The director of the Relatives and Residents Association, Helen Wildbore, said that “untold harm is being done to lives and to wellbeing”.

She said staff shortages were “putting safety and dignity at risk.”

Record Cases in Israel, but Death Rate Lower

Israel broke its record for a daily caseload Wednesday with 48,095 new cases diagnosed in the previous 24 hours, reports the Times of Israel. However, there was no increase Wednesday in the number of patients hospitalized in serious condition because of COViD-19, according to Health Ministry daily figures published today.

Israel is reportedly seeing a significant drop in the number of seriously ill patients who need to be ventilated due to infection with the Omicron variant, compared to previous waves.

Though highly infectious, the Omicron strain now dominating the country is considered less virulent than previous variants, and Health Ministry figures show that the number of both seriously ill patients and deaths is lower than rates seen in the past.

South Korea Gets First Supply of Pfizer’s COVID-19 Pills

South Korea on Thursday received its first supply of Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pills to treat patients with mild or moderate symptoms, reports CTV News. The medication has not yet been approved by Health Canada but is already available in the U.K. and the U.S.

Health officials have described the Paxlovid pills as a potentially important tool to suppress hospitalizations and deaths, as the country braces for another possible surge in infections driven by the contagious omicron variant.

South Korea’s initial supply is enough to support the required five-day treatment courses for 21,000 people. Officials say another batch of pills, enough to provide the required five-day courses for 10,000 people, will come by the end of January.

Judy Gerstel


Jan. 12, 2022

Thousands Sign up for Vaccine After Quebec Announces Tax on Anti-Vaxxers 

More than 7,000 people in Quebec registered for their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, reports CTV News, the same day the province announced it will impose a health tax on Quebecers who refuse to be vaccinated.

“Our highest in several days,” tweeted Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé, noting that 5,000 appointments were also made on Monday. “This is encouraging.”

Dubé notes the appointments were made across all the age groups, and 107,000 doses of vaccine were administered Tuesday alone.

“A health contribution will be charged to all adults that don’t want to get vaccinated. We are there now,” Quebec Premier François Legault said Tuesday, according to Global News.

Legault said he felt the ire of the vaccinated towards the unvaccinated, whom he blamed for clogging up the province’s hospitals.

Only 10 per cent of the population is unvaccinated but they make up 50 per cent of patients in intensive care beds, according to the premier.

“All Quebec adults who refuse in the coming weeks to at least get a first dose, will be getting a bill,” he said.

Constitutional and human rights lawyer Julius Grey told Global News that he thinks the new measure could face legal challenges. “On each side there would be rational argument and the courts would decide,” he said. “It would be a close call.”

Military: About 41 per cent of Winnipeggers May Have Active COVID-19

As many as 41 per cent of Winnipeggers might have active COVID-19, military modelling suggested Tuesday — one week after the province acknowledged it can no longer accurately record the soaring number of cases.

That estimated prevalence reported by the Winnipeg Free Press is based on the typical ratio of known cases to asymptomatic ones that don’t ever get tested, the timelines people incubate the novel coronavirus and when they are most infectious to others, according to a dashboard designed for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Meanwhile, infections could be hitting a peak soon, reports CTV News. The government website estimates that Winnipeg is expected to start seeing cases decline in the next seven to 10 days.

The tool is designed for the Canadian Armed Forces to understand their risk level in different areas of Canada and internationally, and isn’t used to advise other aspects of government.

“The tool was made available globally to provide easy access to CAF medical advisors irrespective of their location and as part of the Government of Canada open data initiative,” a spokesperson told CTV News in an email. “It is important to note that the numbers found in this model are not case numbers, but rather estimates based on existing epidemiological information.”

Projections on the website are similar for Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, where cases are also expected to drop in the coming weeks.

And B.C.’s top doctor says the COVID-19 peak there is a few weeks away.

“We may be entering soon into the place where we will see a decline,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said in an update Tuesday.

U.K. Prime Minister Apologizes for Partying During Lockdown

Boris Johnson has — for the first time — admitted he attended a drinks party at No. 10 during the first lockdown. He offered a “heartfelt apology” but said he had believed it to be a work event.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer and other MPs questioned how Johnson could have thought the party was a work event. Witnesses said both the PM and his wife were among about 30 people at the event in May 2020. At the time it was forbidden to meet more than one person outside. An enquiry is ongoing.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday another 379 COVID deaths were recorded in the U.K., as well as 120,821 new cases.

Cases in Germany, Norway Reach New Daily High

Germany has reported more than 80,000 new daily COVID-19 infections, marking a new daily record, according to the Guardian.

A total of 80,430 coronavirus cases and 384 deaths were recorded for Tuesday, figures from the Robert Koch Institute show.

Norway also set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases with 9,622 new infections registered in the last 24 hours, This is 3,000 cases more than the average of the previous seven days (6,622), local media reports.

World COVID-19 Cases Increase, Number of Deaths Stable

The number of new coronavirus infections in the last week jumped by about 55 per cent, although the number of deaths remained stable, the World Health Organization said in its latest pandemic report., according to the Toronto Star.

In the weekly report issued Tuesday night, the U.N. health agency said there were about 15 million new COVID-19 cases last week and more than 43,000 deaths. Every world region reported a rise in COVID-19 cases except for Africa, where officials saw an 11per cent drop.

Judy Gerstel


Jan. 11, 2022

Highest Adult ICU COVID-19 Admissions in Ontario in Any Wave

Critical Care Services Ontario is reporting 465 adult patients with COVID-19-related critical illness (CRCI) in ICUs. 249 CRCI patients were ventilated. There were 80 new adult admissions, which is the highest number in all waves. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 370.

Today, Ontario reported 7,951 confirmed new cases of COVID-19.

Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted that, starting tomorrow, “We are updating Ontario’s public reporting to distinguish patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 from those admitted for other reasons with COVID-19.

“While this doesn’t change the serious situation in Ontario’s hospitals, it is important to share this data to provide additional context on the state of the pandemic.”

Ontario Parents Won’t be Informed if Kid’s Classmate has COVID

The Ford government confirmed Monday that in-person learning will resume across Ontario on Jan. 17 and issued a seven-page document, reported by CTV News, stating that “Ontario parents may not be notified of COVID-19 exposure in child’s class.” As well, public school students will only be eligible for free PCR COVID-19 testing if they develop symptoms while at school. Dismissing cohorts of students or even notifying families after exposures is now a thing of the past.

Majority of Canadians Favour Latest Restrictions to Control Omicron

A new poll suggests a slim majority of Canadians support the latest round of lockdowns and other government-imposed restrictions as the Omicron variant continues send the rate of new COVID-19 infections soaring, reports the Globe and Mail.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents in the poll conducted by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies agreed that governments are making the right decisions to limit the spread of Omicron and to keep the health system from being overrun.

Another 31 per cent said they did not believe Omicron poses a serious health risk to most of those who are infected, and that governments should leave things open and let Canadians live with the risk.

The remaining 14 per cent said they did not know.

Canada Sees More COVID-19 Cases in 40 Days of Omicron Than All of 2020

Canadian officials have documented more cases of COVID-19 in the 40 days since the first case of Omicron was detected here than they did during the entire first year of the pandemic, reports CTV News. As well, experts say there are even more cases going undetected.

Don’t Travel to Canada, Americans Warned

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday advised Americans not to travel to Canada because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases, reports CBC News.

The CDC elevated its travel recommendation to “Level Four: Very High” for Canada. The CDC currently lists about 80 destinations worldwide at Level Four.

COVID-19 Hospitalizations in U.S. Reach Record High

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States have reached a new record high, surpassing the previous peak from January 2021, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, reports CNN.

There are 145,982 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 — about twice as many than two weeks ago. Nearly 24,000 intensive care unit beds are in use for COVID-19 patients.

Pediatric hospitalizations have already far surpassed previous peaks — with nearly 5,000 children currently hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. That’s nearly double the previous peak from September during the Delta surge.

The HHS data on COVID-19 hospitalizations includes both those patients who are hospitalized because of COVID-19 complications and those who may have been admitted for something else but test positive for COVID-19. This has been true throughout the pandemic, though the share of patients who fall into each category may have changed over time.

WHO: Half of Europe May Be Infected by Omicron in Next Two Months

More than half of the population in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) European region could be infected by Omicron within the next two months, the UN agency warned on Tuesday.

WHO Regional Director Dr. Hans Kluge said Omicron “represents a new west to east tidal wave” sweeping through the 53 countries that make up WHO’s Europe region, reports BBC News.

More than seven million infections were confirmed across the region in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period.

“As of 10 January, 26 countries report that over one per cent of their population is catching COVID-19 each week,” said Kluge.

“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50 per cent of the population in the region will be infected in the next six to eight weeks,” he said.

Manitoba’s Pandemic Death Toll Rises

Manitoba’s pandemic death toll swelled over the weekend, as the province reported 19 more deaths due to COVID-19 and 2,383 new cases Monday, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

A total of 7,083 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Manitoba since the last public health update on Jan. 7. (Manitoba has now exceeded 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.)

Monday’s number is said to be an undercount of infections as the province has largely pivoted to using rapid antigen tests to diagnose COVID-19. Results of rapid tests are not tracked by the government.

Judy Gerstel


Jan. 10, 2022

Pfizer CEO: Omicron Vaccine Ready in March

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday said a vaccine that targets the Omicron variant of COVID-19 will be ready in March, and the company’s already begun manufacturing the doses, reports CNBC News.

Bourla said the vaccine will also target the other variants that are circulating. He said it is still not clear whether or not an Omicron vaccine is needed or how it would be used, but Pfizer will have some doses ready since some countries want it ready as soon as possible.

“The hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection particularly against infections, because the protection against the hospitalizations and the severe disease — it is reasonable right now, with the current vaccines as long as you are having let’s say the third dose,” said Bourla.

Bourla said it’s not clear whether a fourth dose is needed. He said Pfizer will conduct experiments to make to determine if another dose is necessary.

Israel has made a fourth dose of Pfizer’s vaccine available to people over the age of 60, people with compromised immune systems and health-care workers.

Israeli scientists found that a fourth dose of the vaccine increases antibodies that protect against the virus fivefold a week after receiving the shot.

COVID Cases Threaten to Overwhelm Ontario, Quebec Hospitals

Critical Care Services Ontario is reporting 427 adult patients with COVID-19-related critical illness (CRCI) in ICUs, 231 CRCI patients were ventilated. There were 54 new adult admissions. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 341. Hospitalization cases are nearing or reaching record highs in Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick, reports CTV News. At Hamilton Health Science’s Juravinski Hospital, the ICU is operating above capacity. Staff have had to double up patients in critical care rooms. Ontario reported 9,706 confirmed new cases Monday.

Meanwhile, schools will open today in Alberta and British Columbia, according to the Globe and Mail, amid concerns by many parents about school safety.

Pope Suggests COVID Vaccination is “Moral Obligation”

Pope Francis suggested Monday that getting vaccinated against the coronavirus was a “moral obligation” and denounced how people had been swayed by “baseless information” to refuse one of the most effective measures to save lives, reports AP News.

“Frequently people let themselves be influenced by the ideology of the moment, often bolstered by baseless information or poorly documented facts,” he said,

“Vaccines are not a magical means of healing, yet surely they represent, in addition to other treatments that need to be developed, the most reasonable solution for the prevention of the disease.

Some Catholics, including some conservative bishops, have claimed vaccines based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses were immoral, and have refused to get the jabs.

The Vatican’s doctrine office, however, has said it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses. Francis and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI have been fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

Spain: More COVID-19 Reinfections in Two Weeks Than Rest of Pandemic

The number of COVID reinfections reported in Spain in the past two weeks has exceeded the total number of repeat infections documented during the rest of the pandemic, according to the latest data from Spanish researchers, reported by The Guardian.

In the span of two weeks in late December and early January, 20,890 reinfections were reported in Spain.

While the bulk of cases appeared to be mild, the number is higher than the 17,140 cases of reinfection documented from the start of the pandemic to 22 December. The Spanish data includes both confirmed and suspected reinfections.

Researchers attributed the growing number of repeat infections to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

The Spanish data adds to previous research that has linked Omicron to an increase in reinfections. A report released by researchers at Imperial College London in mid-December estimated the risk of reinfection with Omicron to be 5.4 times greater than with Delta.

In South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first identified, preliminary research suggested the variant appears to be reinfecting people at three times the rate of previous strains.

“Previous infection used to protect against Delta but now, with Omicron, that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said professor Anne von Gottberg, from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, in early December.

The findings from the U.K. and South Africa were echoed online by the World Health Organization in late December. “Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 are three to five times more likely to be reinfected with Omicron compared with Delta.

In Spain, the researchers pointed to several factors that may explain the rising number of reinfections. “Either the virus mutates or a person’s immunity wanes,” said Dr Pere Domingo, COVID co-ordinator at a Barcelona hospital. in comments to El País. “In this wave, we’ve seen both factors at play.”

Others suggested that the potential for reinfection was magnified given the large number of COVID-19 cases being reported. “Even if the possibility of reinfection is small — say, one out of 100 — if there are millions of infections, the reinfections will be in the tens of thousands,” Madrid University professor José Antonio López Guerrero told Nius.

Recent weeks have seen the number of cases in Spain rise to record highs, pushing the 14-day infection rate to 2,723 cases per 100,000. To date, the sharp rise in cases has not resulted in a surge of hospitalizations; the number of patients in intensive care units is about half that of the figure from a year earlier.

Italy Extends Restrictions for Unvaccinated

New regulations in effect as of today in Italy mean most public travel and team sports are off-limits to those without a COVID-19 vaccination, reports Deutsche Welle.

In order to visit restaurants, hotels, trade fairs, ski lifts, or ride on local or long-distance trains and buses, you must now present proof of vaccination against or recent recovery from COVID-19. Previously, a negative test result was also accepted.

The new rule also applies to team sports — so all professional soccer players must be vaccinated in order to play.

Italy has seen a spike in infections recently. The latest incidence rate showed 1,669 new cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days.

The majority of schools opened Monday for a new term, despite calls from teachers, the doctors’ union and some mayors to delay the return to class for at least two weeks. Top virologist at the Sacco de Milan hospital, Massimo Galli, said opening schools was “imprudent and unjustified,” while public health expert Walter Ricciardi described the situation as “explosive,” reports Al Jazeera.

The virus is “in an exponential phase. The reopening of schools will bring additional stress, and I fear the number of infections will grow at least until the end of January,” said virologist Fabrizio Pregliasco.

Study: Common Cold May Offer Some Protection Against COVID-19

A small study published today in Nature Communications, involved 52 individuals who lived with someone who had just caught COVID-19.

Those who had developed a “memory bank” of specific immune cells after a cold — to help prevent future attacks — appeared less likely to get COVID-19.

Experts say no one should rely on this defence alone, and vaccines remain key, reports the BBC.

Researchers at Imperial College London understand better why some people catch COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus and others do not.

COVID-19 is caused by a type of coronavirus, and some colds are caused by other coronaviruses — so scientists have wondered whether immunity against one might help with the other.

But the experts caution that it would be a “grave mistake” to think that anyone who had recently had a cold was automatically protected against COVID-19 – as not all are caused by coronaviruses.

In September 2020, researchers studied 52 people who had not yet been vaccinated but who lived with people who had just tested positive for COVID-19. Half the group went on to get COVID-19 during the 28-day study period and half did not.

A third of the people who did not catch COVID-19 were found to have high levels of specific memory T-cells in their blood. These were likely to have been created when the body had been infected with another closely related human coronavirus — most frequently, a common cold, they say.

Researchers accept other variables — such as ventilation and how infectious their household contact was — would have an impact on whether people caught the virus, too.

Dr Simon Clarke, at the University of Reading, said although this was a relatively small study, it added to the understanding of how our immune system fights the virus and could help with future vaccines.

Buy, he cautioned, “It could be a grave mistake to think that anyone who has recently had a cold is protected against COVID-19, as coronaviruses only account for 10 to 15 per cent of colds.”

Judy Gerstel


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

Why It’s Normal for COVID-19 Vaccine Immunity to Wane and How Booster Shots Can Help