Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for April 14

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for April 14.
People wearing masks as a precaution against the coronavirus stand in line to board trains at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Mumbai on Wednesday. Maharashtra, India's worst-hit and richest state, is under stricter restrictions for 15 days starting Wednesday as a surge in COVID-19 cases threatens to overwhelm hospitals. (Rafiq Maqbool/The Associated Press)

After safety review, Health Canada says people shouldn't hesitate to get AstraZeneca vaccine

Following reports of rare blood clotting events among some who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, Health Canada officials said Wednesday they still believe the product is safe — and Canadians should have no qualms about rolling up their sleeves for it when the time comes.

Speaking to reporters at a technical briefing, Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada's chief medical adviser, said there is a "very low risk" that some patients could develop blood clotting with low platelets following vaccination.

Sharma said that with a third wave of COVID-19 raging — and with the risk of hospitalization and death still much greater than the risk of developing clots following an AstraZeneca shot — the benefits of this vaccine clearly outweigh any risks.

"Get whatever vaccine is available to you. It's that simple. The longer you wait to get vaccinated, the longer you're not protected," Sharma said. "We know the risks of getting these side-effects from the vaccine are very rare."

Pointing to evidence from the U.K., where the AstraZeneca shot has been administered 20 million times, Sharma said the chance of developing these clots is roughly 1 in 250,000.

While there are other numbers circulating about the frequency of these clots — rare, vaccine-induced thrombocytopenia (VIPIT) in people with low platelets — Sharma said Canada is relying on the British data because the U.K. has a robust safety monitoring system and has administered a lot of shots.

Meanwhile, Sharma said, the odds of developing a "regular" clot — not the VIPIT — are 1 in 5 for people hospitalized with COVID-19.

The risk of a woman between the ages of 15 and 45 developing any sort of blood clot is 1 in 3,300. If they take birth control, the odds are 1 in 1,600. If a woman is pregnant, the risk is 1 in 300, Sharma said.

Health Canada still has not definitively associated the AstraZeneca vaccine with these clots. Sharma said only that the shot was "probably" the reason why some people developed this condition.

Sharma said the department has updated the product label to warn would-be patients about the risk of developing these clots. Patients who receive the shot will be told to look out for symptoms — severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath.

From The National

A doctor’s perspective on blood clot risks from COVID-19 vaccines

The National

2 months ago
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Susy Hota answers questions about the risk of blood clots from the AstraZeneca-Oxford or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and how that risk compares to other medications. 1:42


MPs call on Ottawa to make face masks, work-related PPE tax-deductible

Opposition critics are calling on Canada to follow the lead of countries like the United States and Australia by making work-related purchases of COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) tax-deductible.

Conservative revenue critic Philip Lawrence said making PPE tax-deductible would relieve the financial pressure on low-income workers who have to protect themselves on the job.

"I think a lot of the people who are working but perhaps being paid minimum wage, who are just trying to scrape by ... they are putting themselves in harm's way by being those front-line workers out there. We should be doing everything we can to make sure they are safe," said Lawrence.

NDP revenue critic Matthew Green said he'd also like to see the federal government consider reimbursing personal purchases of masks and other protective equipment for work.

"I absolutely think that in order to best support our public health mandates on mandatory masking, that at the very least, these should be tax deductible through the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency)," he said. "In the United States, they even have programs for reimbursements."

He suggested the federal government should itself be distributing PPE to front-line workers with lower incomes.

"I think in an ideal world, our government would play a role in not just the recouping of expenses but also the distribution of critical PPE to citizens — particularly ones who are on fixed incomes and can't afford an undue burden of having to pay for new masks," he said.

Read more on the call to make PPE tax-deductible

Toronto hospitals close clinics, halt appointments due to COVID-19 vaccine shortages

Shortages of COVID-19 vaccines have forced major Toronto health networks that serve some of the hardest-hit communities in the province to either ramp down or outright cancel appointments for shots.

The Scarborough Health Network (SHN) says it will be closing its Centennial College and Centenary hospital clinics Wednesday. Clinics will reopen as soon as SHN receives more vaccines, the hospital network says.

Dr. Bert Lauwers, executive vice-president and acting chief of staff at SHN, told CBC News the moves will result in the cancellation of about 10,000 appointments between Wednesday and Monday. The clinics were each previously administering about 2,000 doses per day, he said.

The shuttered clinics were vaccinating residents over the age of 50, Indigenous adults, and health-care workers. Others eligible for the vaccine at the closed locations are chronic home-care clients, faith leaders and people over 18 with high-risk health conditions.

According to Lauwers, SHN has seen about 2,000 people with COVID-19 admitted to its hospitals overall, and more than 400 admissions to critical care. At Scarborough's COVID-19 assessment centres, test positivity rates have reached 24 per cent.

Meanwhile, University Health Network (UHN) has halted registration for vaccine appointments for adults aged 18 to 49 in three hot-spot postal codes.

In a statement, a UHN spokesperson said that more than 20,000 people registered for a first shot since April 12. The list is being "curated" and some of those who signed up may be redirected to mass vaccination clinics, the spokesperson said.

UHN currently has capacity for up to 10,500 shots per week, the spokesperson said, but noted there are not enough doses available to approach that benchmark.

Due to the supply strain, UHN will also be closing its clinic at the BMO Conference Centre downtown and will throttle down its site at the MaRs Centre to 25 per cent capacity until more doses become available.

Read more on the vaccine supply strain in Toronto

Lessons from Quebec City's gym outbreak, one of Canada's largest COVID-19 superspreading events

It's not known exactly how it started — a runner on a treadmill, or perhaps someone lifting weights — but a COVID-19 outbreak at a gym in Quebec City has become one of the largest recorded COVID-19 superspreading events in Canada.

The Méga Fitness Gym became a major source of contagion for the B117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, which now accounts for 70 per cent of all cases in Quebec City.

The gym was shut down March 31 as the city was once again put under lockdown. To date, there have been 222 people infected at the gym, another 356 related cases involving outbreaks at 49 workplaces and a 40-year-old man has died.

But officials have yet to provide key details on the outbreak that can help inform the public, including whether it was sparked by the more contagious and potentially more deadly variant and whether it was driven by aerosol transmission — microscopic airborne particles.

The outbreak is now the subject of an epidemiological investigation but some of the specifics of how the virus spread are being kept confidential, said Mathieu Boivin, a spokesperson for the local health authority.

The health authority says the gym was in violation of at least three public health orders before it was shut down. Gym staff reportedly didn't ask patrons if they were suffering from symptoms of COVID-19, clients weren't kept two metres apart and employees weren't wearing the required personal protective equipment.

The gym's owner, Dan Marino, has not responded to requests for comment. In a Facebook post, he defended his efforts to follow public health regulations.

Read more about the outbreak linked to the gym

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.


Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be different from anything we have seen before

Japan National Stadium, the main venue for this summer's Olympic Games, would traditionally be the site of an elaborate opening ceremony, but the pandemic has left all of those plans up in the air. (Getty Images)

With 100 days until the world's biggest sporting event, questions about whether it will actually happen appear resolved. But this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo, like everything else in the era of COVID-19, will be different from anything we've seen.

The Games are scheduled to open July 23, with the Paralympics to begin on Aug. 24. Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker says these Games won't be the "packed jubilant" spectacle often associated with the Olympics. Rather, the Tokyo Games will be all about the health and safety of athletes, who won't be required to quarantine or be vaccinated to compete.

Athletes will have to adhere to a lengthy list of safety protocols issued by the International Olympic Committee, such as departing the Games 48 hours after competition and not visiting any non-Olympic sites, including bars and restaurants. Also, no international fans will be allowed to attend.

"They'll be a different Olympics, but certainly preferable to them not happening all," long-time Canadian IOC member Richard Pound said.

It's been just over a year since Tokyo organizers and the IOC decided on postponing the Olympics until this summer in the face of the rapidly expanding coronavirus. With COVID-19 still surging, what has changed to make the Olympics possible?

"We know so much more about the virus itself and about how it circulates. We know so much more about what measures we can take to protect against it," Shoemaker said.

Olympic officials have also had a year to observe how other international events have navigated the pandemic, some more successfully than others.

"I think COVID will be lived with…. It's not going to be overcome by the end of July or early August of this year, but we know more about it," Pound said. "I would say that we were looking at probably the best ever organized Games in history."

At the same time, he is aware things could quickly devolve.

"There's a certain element of fingers crossed that there's not some overwhelming surge of the COVID virus that puts the whole thing at risk," Pound said. "But I think that risk has been very successfully managed and I think we're going to have, against a lot of odds, a very successful Games."

Read more on the buildup to the Tokyo Games

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