Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for April 8

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for April 8.
  • Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
  • Jason Kenney faces opposition from within his own party over Alberta's COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Saskatchewan has thousands of AstraZeneca doses it wants to get into arms.
  • Nova Scotia doctors, noting uptick in heart attack patients, don't want people ignoring heart health symptoms during the pandemic.
  • Read more: A community organizer spoke to CBC's As It Happens about the challenges of vaccine uptake in Toronto's hard-hit neighbourhoods; a look at how provinces can differ in reporting hospitalizations, intensive care admissions.
Orlando Mosca, 71, gets his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at St. Fidelis Parish church in Toronto on Wednesday, part of a community outreach program to vaccinate seniors at their place of worship. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News) (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

British Columbia is thoroughly tracking coronavirus variants, with one key caveat

On December 27, the first case of a coronavirus variant of concern was announced in B.C. Just over three months later, as of April 6, there are 3,766 known cases.

According to provincial records, this included 2,838 cases of the B117 variant first detected in Britain, 877 cases of the P1 variant first seen in Brazil, and 51 cases of the B1351 variant originally tracked in South Africa. A variant is said to be responsible for the wave of positive tests which are threatening the completion of the Vancouver Canucks' season, though officials have not yet said which variant.

The province says 90 per cent of all positive tests are now screened for variants, a number much larger than most other jurisdictions. But because B.C. first tests to see whether a case is a variant of COVID-19, and then does a further test to determine which variant it is, as with the Canucks, there's a significant delay between when a variant is announced and the day somebody actually tested positive.

"Data lags lead to lags in action," argued Vancouver data analyst Jens von Bergmann.

"So if we're saying, 'Well, these variants aren't really growing exponentially' … it's actually a past tense of like a week or two ago."

Dr. Brian Conway, chief medical officer of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, believes the government should release numbers on variants before the exact type is known, and consider vaccinating younger people quicker than originally planned.

While the new variants are believed to be much more transmissible than the original strain of the coronavirus without mitigation efforts, Conway said that "if you really are observing the health-care regulations pretty much to the letter, we have no evidence the variant can be transmitted there any more than the old version of COVID could."

There have been a number of anecdotal reports from B.C. doctors of a surge in hospitalizations of younger people due to COVID-19, but the official data from the government has yet to bear that out, writes Justin McElroy of CBC Vancouver.

In the last week of available data, from March 20 to 27, 16 per cent of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were in people under 40, which is consistent with 16 per cent for the entire course of the pandemic.

That said, Brazilian doctors have noted that the recuperation times for those who contracted the P1 variant were considerably longer than those in their cohort who contracted the virus in the early weeks of the pandemic.

From The National

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IN BRIEF

UCP bloc speaks out against its government's latest COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta

Alberta Health on Wednesday reported 1,351 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, the highest daily tally so far in 2021, with 333 people hospitalized with the illness and 79 in intensive-care beds.

But as many as 17 of the United Conservative Party's 62 legislators are publicly announcing their opposition or concern with their own government's move to impose more stringent public-health restrictions in the face of spiking COVID-19 cases.

A group of 15 MLAs said in a joint letter that the recent announcement by Premier Jason Kenney's government involving the closure of indoor dining, libraries and most gym and fitness activities is the "wrong decision" and a backward step for the province.

In an interview Wednesday evening, signatory Miranda Rosin of Banff-Kananaskis said she and her colleagues have received thousands of emails, hundreds of phone calls and had countless conversations with citizens and business owners who oppose public health restrictions.

"Every single one of us believes in the threat of COVID-19 and wants to take the public health threat seriously," Rosin said. "We just need to also balance that with the livelihoods and the financial and economic and mental well-being of Albertans."

She said they're not calling for an immediate lift of restrictions, but for the government to choose a set of benchmarks for imposing and lifting restrictions and to stick to those benchmarks.

Meanwhile, the Alberta government on Thursday announced plans to open vaccination clinics for employees at the Cargill meat-packing plant near High River, Alta. A specific date for the launch of the vaccination drive was not immediately given by Alberta Health Services.

An outbreak last spring saw at least 950 employees at the Cargill facility — nearly half its workforce — test positive, and was linked to three deaths.

The facility was then hit with a second smaller outbreak in December.

Read more about the pandemic in Alberta

With AstraZeneca vaccines to spare, Saskatchewan government considers its options

Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe says his province has a "little bit of a dilemma" when it comes to vaccine distribution.

The provincial government has followed the recommendation of Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to halt the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for those under 55 until more information becomes available about reports of rare, adverse blood clot outcomes in Europe.

But as a result, the province has noted a slowdown in previously flowing drive-thru vaccine clinics offering doses of AstraZeneca in Regina. One photo of a drive-thru without a single car lined up outside on Tuesday morning made the rounds on Twitter.

"We're hemmed in right now by the age limit," Health Minister Paul Merriman said this week.

Both Moe and Merriman said the government is considering various options to get the line moving again. As of Tuesday, Merriman said Saskatchewan had 36,000 AstraZeneca doses sitting unused.

Options could include shortening the interval for those awaiting a second AstraZeneca shot, or using pharmacies to get the doses into arms.

As to reinvigorating demand at the Regina drive-thru locations, Moe said one option may be to divert some Pfizer vaccine doses there.

Officials also noted a positive level of vaccine uptake in Saskatoon.

"Last I heard, it was about an hour wait, which is a good amount of time that encourages people that it's not going to take all day," said Merriman.

Read about the situation

Nova Scotia doctors reveal findings on heart attacks so far during pandemic

During most months, hospitals in Nova Scotia deal with 20 to 30 heart attack patients. Those numbers almost doubled in the fall of 2020, according to researchers from Nova Scotia Health.

"Patients are even coming in later, even though COVID sort of petered out here in the province, we've seen patients have waited longer to come in, they're sicker when they come in," said said Dr. Ratika Parkash, a cardiologist and director of research for the cardiology division with the health authority.

There also appears to have been an effect in the summer of 2020, according to Dr. John Sapp, also part of the research group.

The number of cardiac arrests usually dips in the summer to about 100 cases per month, according to provincial tracking. In 2020, that number stayed up to around 130 to 140 cases, raising fears that some people had put off seeking help during the first wave.

"We don't want people to ignore the early warning signs of cardiovascular disease," said Sapp

Parkash said people need to realize that hospitals are safe and that staff at hospitals where COVID-19 patients are being treated make sure no one else comes into contact with the virus.

"Patients should rest assured that they are going to be protected when they come to the hospital," said Parkash. "We don't want to see patients with conditions that are eminently treatable to suffer because of this pandemic."

She and her team want anyone experiencing heart attack or stroke symptoms to go to hospital and get checked out as soon as possible.

Symptoms of a heart attack include tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and back pain, along with discomfort in the arms and jaw. Symptoms of a stroke include the inability to raise both arms, a drooping face and slurred or jumbled speech, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Read more about the pandemic in Nova Scotia 

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

AND FINALLY...

Proof of vaccination may be the ticket to self-isolation exemption for P.E.I.'s seasonal residents 

Stephanie Shreenan, who is originally from Prince Edward Island but lives in Alberta, hopes some potential new rules in P.E.I. around exemptions from restrictions for those who've been vaccinated will mean she can come home to visit family more easily this summer. (Stephanie Shreenan/Facebook)

In Prince Edward Island's legislature this week, Premier Dennis King said the province is looking at summer travel and what the research and data says, with possible exemptions from certain restrictions for seasonal residents who have been vaccinated.

King said seasonal residents will still have to submit travel plans, and may still need to be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive on the Island.

"I think what you're going to see in the days ahead from the Chief Public Health Office, not just in this province but others, is that there will be different restrictions for those who have proof of vaccination," the premier said.

His comments are prompting optimism and questions from those with ties to the province.

Patricia Revell, a seasonal resident who lives in Ontario, said she's about to get her first shot of the vaccine, but wonders if one will be enough to allow her an exemption.

"I understand the need to be protective, so for us it just might be one more summer of not being able to do all the things we want to do," said Revell.

Stephanie Shreenan, an Islander living in Alberta, doesn't own any P.E.I. property, but she hopes the new rules will be extended to family members so she can come home more easily this summer.

"Having the ability to go there with proof of vaccination, that would be something that I would look into and that I would like to do," she said.

While there was a mix of responses from those contacted by CBC News, all welcomed the possibility of not having to self-isolate for 14 days.

King has said that full details on how the system will work this summer could be released by the middle of this month.

Read more about the situation

Find out more about COVID-19

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