Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for April 19

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for April 19.
  • Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
  • With worries over their immediate career prospects, student leaders hope for support in the federal budget.
  • Pandemic rise of virtual care and telemedicine could bring with it climate benefits, researchers say.
  • Tears for family members, relief for airlines as Australia-New Zealand travel routes increase significantly.

Read more: Follow all the details and analysis of the federal budget announcement; Canadian new housing starts for March easily beat analyst expectations.

Motorists are stopped at a police checkpoint in Ottawa on Monday as new COVID-19 restrictions came into effect that limit travel into the province of Ontario. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

Some provinces begin to expand AstraZeneca vaccine eligibility

Manitoba on Monday followed on the heels of Ontario and Alberta by announcing that anyone aged 40 and up is now eligible to receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine.

Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for ages 18 and up in February, but the National Advisory Committee on Immunization more recently recommended a temporary pause in giving it to people younger than 55 as it looked into European incidents of rare blood clots in some patients. A handful of cases have since been detected in Canada.

An Oxford study has since found the risk of blood clots from a COVID-19 infection is eight to 10 times higher than from a vaccine. The odds of getting a blood clot from a vaccine are estimated to be between one in 100,000 and one in 250,000.

"Based on all of the evidence available internationally to date, we continue to believe benefits of the AstraZeneca/CoviShield vaccine to protect against COVID-19 outweigh any potential risks," Manitoba vaccine team lead Dr. Joss Reimer said Monday in a statement.

On Sunday, the federal government said the provinces and territories were free to expand eligibility for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to any adult over the age of 18 as some pharmacists across the country warned they had doses sitting idle because of the age restrictions.

"Provinces and territories are free to use AstraZeneca in any population over 18 per Health Canada's licence for use in Canada," federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters.

Saskatchewan and Quebec are among the other provinces where officials have said they will review their age guidelines with respect to the AstraZeneca vaccine in the wake of the comments from health officials in Ottawa.

In Toronto on Monday, Mayor John Tory put out a call to those in the newly adjusted age range and not at risk for the very rare clotting issue to get their AstraZeneca shot. Tory, who turns 67 next month, pointed out it was the vaccine he received a dose of last week, to no ill-effect.

Read where each of the provinces and territories stand on eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

From The National

Hundreds of complaints filed about misused wage subsidy funds

The National

21 days ago
2:12
CBC News has learned the federal government has gotten hundreds of complaints from Canadians about companies misusing the money from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. 2:12

IN BRIEF

Post-secondary student leaders call out for support from Ottawa

The drop of a federal budget usually has numerous interested groups clamouring for attention from Ottawa, but student leaders and education policy experts hope the Liberal government takes heed of the toll the pandemic has taken on post-secondary students.

Against a backdrop of uncertain job prospects in the pandemic, student leaders are calling for an extension of the moratorium on repaying student loans in today's federal budget. The measure would allow students to focus on finding work and getting through the pandemic right now before having to start paying back their student loans, said Bailey Howard, the Newfoundland and Labrador chair for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

"I do think that post-secondary students have definitely been put on the back burner," said Howard.

The youth jobless rate was measured at 19.9 per cent this January with a fresh wave of lockdowns and closures, Statistics Canada noted in its March 2021 Labour Force Survey. The agency underlined the extent to which the employment of young Canadians aged 15-24, particularly young women, is affected by public health measures enacted to contain COVID-19.

"Youth are disproportionately affected during COVID-19," said Tim Lang, president and CEO of Youth Employment Services in Toronto. "When organizations have to cut back, they often look at their newer employees or younger employees."

Grappling with student debt and poor employment options is an ongoing crisis, said David Macdonald, an Ottawa-based senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The impact of not having a job for a year or two after college or university graduation can extend beyond just lost income over that period, he said.

Current jobless graduates will soon be "competing against a new crop of students who have just graduated and don't have a gap in their resumés, so they've got a lot more competition for jobs," he said.

Macdonald was hoping to see in the budget an improved version of last year's Canada emergency student benefit, which fell short and "wasn't very well subscribed to," he said, because it offered substantially less than the more general Canada emergency response benefit.

Read more about the situation

Rise of virtual care and telemedicine could bring with it climate benefits, researchers say

Canada's health sector is among the worst in the world in terms of greenhouse gases, according to a 2019 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

When compared to health-care systems in 47 countries, Canada has the third-highest per capita emissions, according to the Canadian Medical Association.

Online medical visits or telephone appointments can reduce costs, travel and time in the waiting room, but virtual health care may also have environmental benefits, researchers in British Columbia and Nova Scotia say

"At this point in time, it's probably not front and centre for the majority of people," said Dr. Sean Christie, a neurosurgeon and co-lead for a feature project through the Healthy Population Institute at Dalhousie University. "I think that that's largely because it's not out there that broadly — health care has an impact on the environment."

Christie and colleagues are collecting data on the carbon footprint of different approaches to patient care, both in-person and virtual, in addition to patient surveys, he said. The team expects to able to process the results of their findings in late summer.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) staff surveyed about 100 people who had virtual appointments between April and July of last year. Generally, the virtual visits helped patients save time while reducing emissions, with many patients reporting they would have revved up their car engines for trips to the doctor that were of a relatively short distance in kilometres.

"For each avoided in-person appointment that is now a virtual appointment, we ended up avoiding anywhere between two to five kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per appointment," said Marianne Dawson, a sustainability consultant with health organizations in the Vancouver area, including VCH.

Dawson said the numbers may seem small but scaled up to include patients across the region, "we can see how quickly those avoided emissions will add up."

Read more about the research 

Tears for family members, relief for airlines as Australia-New Zealand travel increases

The idea of a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand had been talked about for months but faced setbacks because of several small virus outbreaks in both countries, which were eventually stamped out.

A small step toward pre-pandemic normality took place Monday as travellers from both countries no longer have to quarantine after hopping over to either country.

Elation and relief were the order of the day at the Wellington Airport in New Zealand's capital on Monday. Children held balloons and banners and Indigenous Maori performers welcomed the arrivals home with songs, while Air New Zealand ordered some 24,000 bottles of sparkling wine, offering a complimentary glass to adult passengers.

Danny Mather was overcome to see his pregnant daughter Kristy and his baby grandson for the first time in 15 months after they flew in from Sydney for a visit on the first flight after the bubble opened.

"It's just so good to see her and I'm just so happy to have her back," he said.

Not all occasions were joyous, with some travellers reporting that their reason for travel was to reunite with family members after recent deaths or to attend funerals.

Air New Zealand's chief operating officer, Carrie Hurihanganui, said the carrier had previously been running just two or three flights a day between the two countries, but that jumped to 30 flights on Monday carrying 5,200 passengers.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern heralded Monday's expansion of travel but officials have previously said they'll monitor developments carefully in the event of any COVID-19 outbreaks in either country.

Read more from the scene in Wellington, N.Z.

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

Why a team at McMaster was a ready to handle any reports of vaccine blood clotting issues

Dr. Ishac Nazy, associate professor of medicine at McMaster University and director of the school's Platelet Immunology Laboratory, tells CBC News it feels like his lab in Hamilton, Ont., is "the centre of the country right now."

That's because it's the only one in Canada with the equipment and expertise to test for the syndrome known as vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia, or VIPIT.

So far the lab has tested about a dozen samples from across the country that could point to a link between a rare blood-clotting syndrome and the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

"When we realized that this was an issue, we set up a mechanism whereby if anyone in the country suspected that this would be the case, they sent us a sample and we processed that as quickly as possible," said Nazy.

The turnaround for results takes less than 48 hours.

"It just so happens that the blood clot issue that we're seeing with the vaccine is very much overlapping with one of these pretty rare platelet disorders that our lab has come to know very commonly," said Dr. Donald Arnold, a clinical hematologist who runs the lab with Nazy and Dr. John Kelton.

For decades, McMaster's lab has been investigating heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, a clotting condition that can occur when patients are given heparin, a blood thinner.

"We're in a very unique position where we're able to get the test done for these patients who are suspected of having a vaccine-induced clot and tell them pretty much within a day or two that we can confirm that is, in fact, the diagnosis," said Arnold.

Based on evidence from the U.K., which has administered 20 million doses of AstraZeneca, Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada's chief medical adviser, has said the chance of developing the vaccine-induced clotting syndrome is roughly one in 250,000.

While the risk of blood clots is very rare, people who receive the AstraZeneca shot in Canada are being told to look out for symptoms, including severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath.

AND FINALLY...

Downtown offices will rise again: urban planning expert

Richard Shearmur's office setup at his home, which involved sharing bandwidth with his teenaged daughters, wasn't always ideal, he says. (Submitted by Richard Shearmur)

The post-pandemic demise of the urban office tower has been greatly exaggerated, says Richard Shearmur.

Shearmur brings a mix of personal anecdote and professional expertise to the latest instalment of CBC Quebec's First Person column.

The director of the urban planning program at McGill University, building on research he helped conduct in 2020, predicts that once the pandemic is over, there will be a painful period of readjustment as people return to the office.

Some will remain at home part of the time, he said, but those employees could, in the medium to longer term, lose touch with colleagues, emerging ideas, office politics and the social dimensions of the workplace. Eventually, most employees will move back to in-person work because it is inherently more effective from organizational and social perspectives, Shearmur believes.

Working from home, he said, while beneficial in many ways, can be limiting in terms of one's physical health and the fact that dwellings aren't generally set up for long-term office work in terms of ergonomics, bandwidth or square footage. Zoom meetings can blur into one and be less distinct than in-person communications.

The painful readjustment is something Shearmur said he has experienced in his recent return to in-person work two days a week at his office in downtown Montreal.

Some have been amusing — he forgot how to use the office coffee machine — but he also articulates a sense of anxiety in the first days back, feeling that "every moment away from a screen felt like an indulgence."

But slowly, Shearmur has found the generally quicker and sometimes ad hoc discussions with colleagues "stimulating." He also thinks it benefits the professor-student dynamic.

"When students drop in for informal chats, I can quickly work out what they need and I enjoy doing so."

Read more of Shearmur's thoughts on office and remote work 

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With files from The Associated Press

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