The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for April 6
- Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
- Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole beats the drum for a public inquiry on federal government pandemic response.
- Nova Scotia eases some restrictions, waives quarantine requirement for those entering from Newfoundland and Labrador.
- Australia, New Zealand announce start date for long-discussed travel bubble.
Ontario upgrades vaccination schedule, but based on age not occupation
Ontario will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to residents aged 50 and over in "hot spot" postal codes in the coming weeks, as provincial officials on Tuesday revised the province's vaccination schedule.
The 90 or so hot spot neighbourhoods are located in 13 public health units: Durham, Halton, Hamilton, Niagara, Ottawa, Peel, Simcoe-Muskoka, Southwestern, Toronto, Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Windsor-Essex and York Region.
However, younger essential workers likely won't have access to shots until, at the earliest, mid-May, according to a slide deck presented by officials.
That is likely to not satisfy many health-care experts, who have been calling on the province to attack the spread of the virus, which appears focused on essential work.
Several family physicians who have spoken to CBC News and other media outlets have said that the majority of cases they're seeing in Toronto and Peel, the two most populous regions, are frontline workers or those in their circle of contacts.
Regional public health units have the ability to tweak provincial guidance on the vaccination schedule, and on Tuesday it was announced in Niagara that about 6,000 educators and others who work in the region's schools can get shots between April 10 and 18. The goal is to get people vaccinated before the April 19 return to classes following the spring break.
Daryl Jerome, president of the local bargaining unit of Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said in an email to CBC that local public health "needs to take Niagara Health's lead and prioritize vaccines for education workers, now."
Meanwhile, the province also announced that Ontario's online booking portal will open to all residents aged 60 and above starting tomorrow. Some health units were already offering appointments in that age cohort, but any that have not yet begun can start in the morning, officials said.
Ontario on Tuesday reported 3,065 new cases of COVID-19. Critical Care Services Ontario said that as of yesterday, there were 497 people with COVID-19 being treated in ICUs, the highest at any point in the pandemic. During the second wave of the illness, ICU admissions in the province peaked at 420.
From The National
Conservatives would conduct public inquiry into pandemic response, Erin O'Toole says
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said Tuesday that if elected, his government would call a public inquiry to examine the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
O'Toole characterized the pandemic response of Justin Trudeau's government as "slow and confused." O'Toole accused the Liberals of allowing the national stockpile of personal protective equipment to become depleted and of defunding a key pandemic early warning system, as well as acting too slowly on rapid testing and shutting down international travel.
"A public inquiry will ensure that all lessons learned from the crisis are publicly aired and improvements can immediately be adopted," O'Toole said. "Canada must be better prepared for future threats. We cannot afford to once again fail to keep Canadians safe."
Some of O'Toole's criticism builds on the findings of Canada's auditor general, who in a report tabled in Parliament last month found the Public Health Agency of Canada was not ready for the global pandemic and did not appreciate the threat it posed in its early stages after two decades of warnings, planning and government spending.
Liberal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government is committed to conducting a public inquiry. "I can't predict the nature of the inquiry, but I can tell you that we would want all Canadians to participate," said Hajdu. "We are open to an inquiry that is as deep as necessary — including a public inquiry — that gets to how our country can be better prepared [for] global health threats in the future."
Trudeau defended the federal government's role in fighting the pandemic, pointing to financial support for individuals and businesses, as well as vaccine contracts that are now taking effect, with the pace of inoculation now proceeding more steadily after being plagued by supply issues.
"Have we done everything perfect? No, of course not," said Trudeau. "But ... we have been there every step of the way to support the Team Canada approach and we will continue to."
Nova Scotia eases some travel, recreation restrictions
Nova Scotia will waive the two-week quarantine requirement for travellers from Newfoundland and Labrador beginning Wednesday, Premier Iain Rankin has announced.
With the change, all Atlantic Canadians will now be able to enter Nova Scotia without the need to quarantine for 14 days. However, anyone travelling from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick, P.E.I. or Newfoundland and Labrador will still need to self-isolate for 14 days in those provinces.
Last month, the Council of Atlantic Premiers announced it planned to re-open the Altantic bubble, which permits residents to travel freely between the four Atlantic provinces, by April 19.
Rankin said Tuesday that is still the plan, but he is watching the neighbouring provinces closely, particularly New Brunswick, which has dealt with a recent outbreak.
Within the province, Rankin said malls, retail business and fitness facilities can also return to operating at 100 per cent capacity on Wednesday, with physical distancing.
Sports practices, training and games, along with arts and culture rehearsals and performances can now accommodate up to 75 people. Rankin said while physical distancing and masks are not required for these activities, they are recommended when possible.
About 30,000 people in Nova Scotia have received both shots of a vaccine, provincial officials said, with nearly 87,000 others having received a first dose.
Australia and New Zealand to launch 'travel bubble' later this month
Though most Australian states have allowed quarantine-free visits from New Zealanders for months, New Zealand has continued mandatory quarantine requirements from its neighbour, citing concern about small COVID-19 outbreaks there.
That will change later this month, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Tuesday, with the two countries creating a so-called travel bubble effective April 19.
"The Trans-Tasman travel bubble represents a start of a new chapter in our COVID response and recovery, one that people have worked so hard at," Ardern told reporters in the New Zealand capital of Wellington.
The idea has been discussed from the early days of the pandemic. In April 2020, then-foreign minister Winston Peters put his support behind a bubble, saying, "we're beating the crap out of [COVID-19], the same as Australia."
The virus has effectively been eradicated in both countries, with minor outbreaks a result of leakage from returning travellers in quarantine. Australia has recorded about 29,400 virus cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, while New Zealand has had just over 2,100 confirmed cases and 26 deaths.
Air New Zealand Ltd and Qantas Airways Ltd said they would ramp up flights between Australia and New Zealand to more than 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, reducing the airlines' cash burn when they are almost wholly reliant on domestic markets for revenue.
"Tourism operators can now take bookings with confidence and scale up their staffing," said Chris Roberts, CEO of New Zealand travel industry body Tourism Industry Aotearoa.
Flights to and from some Australian states could still be suspended if there were local outbreaks, Ardern warned. She said travellers must wear masks on flights and undergo New Zealand contact tracing, while the travel bubble did not apply to people transiting via Australia from other countries.
Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.
Vaccine trials ongoing with teens, children
As previously detailed in Tuesday's CBC Morning Brief, there are a number of studies looking into the effects of COVID-19 vaccines for use with teens and children.
Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada's chief medical adviser, recently predicted that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be the first to receive approval for such use in the country in the coming months.
Pfizer and BioNTech said last week that their COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b2, is safe, with "demonstrated 100 per cent efficacy" in preventing the disease in those aged 12 to 15.
In the trial of 2,260 adolescents, there were 18 cases of COVID-19 in the group that got a placebo shot and none among those who received the vaccine. Side-effects were similar to those reported in clinical trials in adults, such as pain at the injection site, headaches, fever and fatigue.
The data hasn't been peer-reviewed or scrutinized by regulators like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada.
It's only when vaccines roll out in the real world to children with diabetes, heart disease and other underlying conditions that answers on effectiveness will be clearer.
"We want to protect everybody in our community, even those who cannot be immunized or will not respond to the vaccine," said Dr. Noni MacDonald, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Dalhousie University in Halifax who researches vaccine safety. "To do that, we need children, we need teenagers, we need young adults, we need middle-aged adults and we need older people."
Meanwhile, Moderna is also conducting a clinical trial in Canada for children aged five to 11. The results are expected early in 2022. In March, the company also launched a U.S. trial for children under 12 years of age and as young as six months old.
Johnson & Johnson, which recently won approval for its vaccine in adults in Canada and the U.S., expanded its Phase 2 trial for those aged 12 to 17 and plans to include younger children.
Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie working on COVID-19 vaccines at the VIDO lab in Saskatoon, said she's excited about how the vaccines could help children return to school and sports.
"Children can be infected with the virus and pass on the virus," Kelvin said. "Even though we might not see clinical disease in kids or the clinical disease might not be as severe as in adults, it's really important that children are not able to be part of the transmission chain."
Average Toronto home price has jumped to $1.1 million in year since pandemic began
The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) reported a whopping 15,652 home sales in the Toronto area last month, with the average price of a home now at $1.1 million.
In the first 14 days last month, there were 6,504 sales, a figure that was up 41 per cent from the same period last year, which roughly coincided with the declaration of a pandemic and the shut down of much of the economy.
Realtors say the number of people willing to purchase now will likely more than make up for last year's low periods.
"Confidence in economic recovery coupled with low borrowing costs supported a record pace of home sales last month," TRREB president Lisa Patel said in a release.
A year on, available inventory hasn't caught up to the number of people seeking new homes, putting pressure on prices.
"While the robust market activity is indicative of widespread consumer optimism, it is also shedding light on the sustained lack of inventory in the GTA housing market, with implications for affordability," said Patel.
The average price of a home in the region jumped 21.6 per cent to $1,097,565 from $902,787 last year. The most dramatic price increases were seen in detached housing, where the average price was up by 26.6 per cent to hit $1,402,849.
The average price of a semi-detached home was $1,045,519, a 17.5 per cent hike, while townhouses were up 20.7 per cent on average to $870,533.
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With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters