Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for March 2

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for March 2nd.
  • First of what may be multiple interest rate hikes in 2022 initiated by Bank of Canada.
  • Nerve damage found in majority of long COVID participants in U.S. study.
  • World roundup: WHO mobilizes aid for Ukraine, New Zealand police move in forcefully after 3 weeks of protests near Parliament.
  • Explore: Pandemic legal docket: Ontario judge dismisses challenge by churches against COVID-19 rules, judge rules wife in separated couple can't be compelled to vaccinate pre-teen kids.... CBC Ideas: 'Liminal space' photography captures pandemic isolation in public spaces. 
Police and demonstrators clash in Wellington as an operation took place Wednesday by authorities to retake Parliament grounds and nearby encampments after three weeks of protest in New Zealand related to the country's COVID-19 measures. (Dave Lintott/AFP/Getty Images)

Bank of Canada hikes key interest rate to 0.5%

The Bank of Canada raised its benchmark interest rate to 0.5 per cent on Wednesday, a move that's expected to be the first of a series of small rate hikes this year in an attempt to tame inflation that has risen to its highest point in decades.

It's the first time the bank has raised its rate since 2018, let alone during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the bank's rate was 1.75 per cent, before it quickly slashed the rate down to 0.25 per cent to help the economy.

The bank, which had telegraphed the move in recent weeks, cited a new report indicating that Canada's economy grew at a 6.7 per cent annual pace in the last quarter of 2021.

"This is stronger than the bank's projection and confirms its view that economic slack has been absorbed," the bank said.

Investors think there could be as many as five more small rate hikes before the year 2022 is out.

Adam Brown with BDO Canada told CBC News in an interview that there's "no need to panic" but Wednesday's move shows that rates are finally going to start inching higher. "Clearly there's more rate increases, and there's potential [for them] to be faster than we expected," he said.

The Bank of Canada's rate affects the rates that Canadian consumers get on things like mortgages, lines of credit and savings accounts at their own banks. Lenders are already starting to move in reaction to the central bank's hike, with Royal Bank raising its prime lending rate to 2.7 per cent starting Thursday, up from 2.45 per cent.

In the U.S., Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that he supports a traditional quarter-point increase in the reserve's benchmark short-term interest rate when the Fed meets later this month, rather than a larger increase that some of its policymakers have proposed.

Economists have forecast that the Fed will implement five to seven quarter-point hikes this year. This month's increase would be the first since 2018.

"I think that this inflation is substantially higher than anything we've seen since I was in college 50 years ago," he said in testimony to a House financial services committee. "This is strong, high inflation and it's very important that we get on top of it, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

Both the Bank of Canada and Powell cautioned that the economic consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the resulting sanctions by the U.S., Canada and Europe, could lead to additional price challenges in 2022.

From CBC News

Relaxed COVID-19 restrictions a concern for some immunocompromised

4 months ago
Duration 2:08
The relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions is a big concern for some people who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk.

Nerve damage may explain some cases of long COVID, U.S. study suggests

A small study of patients suffering from persistent symptoms long after a bout of COVID-19 found that nearly 60 per cent had nerve damage possibly caused by a defective immune response, a finding that could point to new treatments, researchers have found.

The new U.S. study involved in-depth exams of 17 people with so-called long COVID, a condition that arises within three months of a COVID-19 infection and lasts at least two months.

"I think what's going on here is that the nerves that control things like our breathing, blood vessels and our digestion in some cases are damaged in these long COVID patients," said Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a lead author of the study published in the journal Neurology: Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation.

Oaklander and colleagues focused on patients with symptoms consistent with a type of nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy. All but one had had mild cases of COVID-19, and none had nerve damage prior to their infections.

After ruling out other possible explanations for the patients' complaints, the researchers ran a series of tests to identify whether the nerves were involved.

"We looked with every single major objective diagnostic test," Oaklander said.

The vast majority had small fibre neuropathy, meaning damage to small nerve fibres that detect sensations and regulate involuntary bodily functions such as the cardiovascular system and breathing. Eleven of the 17 patients were treated with either steroids or intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), with some improving, although none were rid totally of their symptoms.

The findings are consistent with a July study by Dr. Rayaz Malik of Weill Cornell Medicine Qatar that found an association between nerve fibre damage in the cornea and a diagnosis of long COVID.

Meanwhile, a new pilot program spearheaded by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority aims to help educate Manitobans with long COVID about symptoms and treatment and give them an opportunity to connect with each other.

"These are people that went from one health status one day to a completely different health status the next, and that's terrifying," said Dana Kliewer, a physiotherapist in the pulmonary rehabilitation program at Deer Lodge Centre.

The virtual sessions focus on topics such as fatigue management, breathing and the nervous system, brain fog after COVID-19, managing anxiety and guilt, and medications.

Initially the plan was to start the pilot program with a group of 10 people with long COVID, but the registration list now sits at more than 40, Kliewer said.

The World Health Organization has defined long COVID as a condition that arises within three months of a COVID-19 infection and lasts at least two months. Symptoms can include fatigue, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, cognitive difficulties, chronic pain, sensory abnormalities and muscle weakness.

World roundup: COVID-related developments in Ukraine, New Zealand and Hong Kong 

 

A first shipment of medical aid for Ukraine will arrive in Poland on Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, as the UN agency warned of an escalating health crisis in the country following Russia's invasion.

 

The delivery includes six tonnes of trauma care and emergency surgery supplies to help 150,000 people, but how to get them to Ukrainians in need remains unclear, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

The kits being sent to Ukraine include sutures and skin grafts, as well as equipment for amputations and other major trauma operations. WHO said it was also prioritizing COVID-19 therapeutics, including the new antiviral pills, to Ukraine over the last 72 hours to mitigate a potential surge.

While the COVID-19 case level is not of the highest priority in the country right now, and according to tracking appears substantially down from an Omicron variant peak a month ago, as of last week only about 35 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

In New Zealand, police in riot gear and sometimes using pepper spray retook control of the Parliament grounds in the capital Wellington after hundreds of protesters had amassed there over the past three weeks, demonstrating against coronavirus vaccine mandates. It was the most significant use of force yet by authorities against the protesters.

The operation began at dawn, when police started telling people over loudspeakers they were trespassing and needed to leave, while officers tore down tents in peripheral areas and a police helicopter circled overhead. Some protesters confronted police and used milk to try and clear their eyes from pepper spray, while others set fire to tents, mattresses and chairs.

Police also began towing some of the 300 or so cars, vans and trucks that protesters have used to block streets in the area. The convoy demonstration was inspired by similar protests in Canada and has sparked other protests around New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was "both angry and also deeply saddened" over the hostility police encountered in the operation. A group representing some of the protesters countered that the vast majority of demonstrators had been well-behaved and had chosen to camp as a last resort after other options for dialogue were quashed.

About 78 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.

In Hong Kong, chief executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday that people's movements may be restricted during mandatory testing this month of the entire population for the coronavirus, as health officials reported a record 55,353 daily infections and more than 100 deaths.

Lam said authorities are still refining the plan, but that there would be no "complete" lockdown that would prevent entry and exit from the city.

"The extent of it must take into account Hong Kong's circumstances and people's needs," she told reporters.

Hong Kong is planning to test its more than seven million residents as it grapples with soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases in its worst outbreak of the pandemic, linked largely to the Omicron variant.

Officials on Wednesday reported 117 deaths, taking the total number above 1,000. About 80 per cent of the deaths have occurred since late December.

Most of the deaths involved elderly patients who were not fully vaccinated. In contrast to many parts of the world, the working-age population is much more vaccinated than seniors; before the recent testing blitz, less than half of those older than 80 in Hong Kong had been fully vaccinated.

Today's graphic

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in B.C.

COVID-related hospitalization down 24% in the province from a week earlier

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With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press

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