Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Dec. 18

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Dec. 18.
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence receives a COVID-19 vaccine to promote the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the White House on Friday in Washington, D.C. (Doug Mills/Getty Images)

At least another 500,000 vaccine doses to be in Canada in January, PM says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Pfizer will be shipping 125,000 vaccine doses per week in January 2021 for a total of 500,000 shots — primarily destined for the arms of front-line health care workers and long-term care home residents. This follows the previously announced expectation that 249,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer with Germany's BioNTech will be distributed in Canada for the duration of this month.

"This is the largest immunization campaign our country has ever seen, and I know we have the right plan and the expertise we need. But remember, a vaccine in a week or in a month won't help you if you get COVID-19 today," Trudeau said, urging Canadians in hard-hit areas to sacrifice during the winter break of 2020 by foregoing large-scale contact outside the house, including with extended family.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said today's announcement that Canada will receive a specific number of Pfizer-BioNTech doses in January may give the provinces leeway to accelerate their vaccination campaigns. While all provinces have started delivering shots, most have stockpiled the second dose of the two-dose regime to ensure they have enough supply on hand.

If a steady supply of vaccines is expected, Tam said, some provinces may opt to just vaccinate as many people as possible without keeping a reserve.

Trudeau was asked multiple questions by reporters on Friday related to the fact that the U.S., at least according to projections, will vaccinate far more of its citizens sooner on a per capita basis.

"The Americans have a health-care system that will have challenges and will have successes. We have our own process," said Trudeau.

While the United Kingdom was the first in the West to vaccinate its most vulnerable, current estimations would put Canada nearly three weeks earlier than when European Union countries are expected to begin inoculation programs.

Neither Trudeau nor Tam had a specific update on Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, which is awaiting Health Canada approval and was given a vote of confidence by a panel of U.S. medical experts on Thursday. Authorization in Canada would likely see total vaccine units for January increase by a six-figure total. Trudeau previously said up to 166,000 Moderna doses could be administered in December if they are approved this month.

Setting the Moderna vaccine possibility aside, the current Pfizer-BioNTech allotment alone through the end of January could see about 375,000 Canadians get the two-shot vaccination by then.

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Trudeau looks back at early response to COVID-19

9 months ago
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton about the lessons learned from his government’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic, what should’ve been done sooner and his conversations with U.S. President Donald Trump about shutting down non-essential travel along the border. 5:58


Ford government mulling COVID-19 lockdown in southern Ontario starting Boxing Day, sources say

As Ontario deals with consistently high coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations, Premier Doug Ford's government confirmed Friday that the current lockdowns for Toronto and nearby Peel Region will remain in place past Dec. 21, when they were set to expire.

The two most populous regions in the province have regularly accounted for about half, or more, of the case totals in the province.

But the Ford government is also considering a lockdown across southern Ontario from Boxing Day until Jan. 11, CBC News has learned.

Multiple sources in and outside government who are aware of the proposal for southern Ontario say that the lockdown plan is similar to what will take effect in Quebec after Christmas Day. The plan is to be put to a meeting of Ford's cabinet Friday afternoon. Northern Ontario would be excluded from all the lockdown measures, say the sources, who have knowledge of the plans and spoke to CBC News on condition they not be named.

The meeting comes as public health officials reported 2,290 more cases of the illness Friday morning and 68, 246 coronavirus tests completed. It is the fourth day with more than 2,000 new cases in the province. Another 40 deaths of people with the illness were also reported.

While a senior government official told CBC News that the sources are getting ahead of themselves, the Conservatives have a number of factors and decisions to make. While the Ontario Hospital Association has called for more stringent measures to arrest the tide of new admittances, several businesses have implored the province to reconsider its measures in Toronto and Peel — including The Bay in court on Thursday — which are seen as benefiting certain big-box retailers and of limited effectiveness.

As well, parents of school-aged children in some regions have been anxious to know if the winter break will be extended further into January. Education Minister Stephen Lecce has told school boards in a memo that they should be prepared for the possibility that in-person classes for some students won't return on Jan. 4 as scheduled, but no official announcement has been made.

Read more about what's happening in Ontario

Why COVID-19 represents such a threat to Quebec's hospital systems

Canadians in several provinces, including in Quebec, have heard in recent weeks about precarious scenarios involving COVID-19 hospitalizations and the scarcity of intensive care beds. But the gross number of hospitalizations and don't always give an well-rounded picture.

In a year-end interview with Radio-Canada this week, Quebec Premier François Legault sketched out another aspect of the challenge posed by COVID-19: hospital beds aren't evenly distributed across the province, and neither are coronavirus cases.

"It's not the overall number," he said. "You have to look at it region by region."

Dr. François Marquis, the head of intensive care at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, said there's a limit to what can be done.

Even if there are beds available, Marquis told Radio-Canada, staff is not always available. More than 7,000 health-workers are now off work because of the virus, and some regional health authorities have refused to grant nurses vacation.

According to new research from Quebec's public health research institute, the average stay for the 5,863 hospital admissions for COVID-19 during the spring wave was 17 days. To contrast, there were 3,200 hospitalizations per year for seasonal influenza between 2011 and 2019, with an average stay of six days, according to the study.

Read more about hospital capacity in the province

COVID-19 cases among First Nations in some B.C. regions are double the rest of population

The First Nations Health Authority in British Columbia has released new data that illustrates that some Indigenous people are harder hit when it comes to contracting the virus.

In B.C.'s Northern Health region, for example, nearly 36 per cent of people with confirmed cases are First Nations, even though the Indigenous people there make up less than 17 per cent of that region's population. That high number means First Nations people have confirmed COVID-19 cases at twice the rate of the rest of the population in B.C.'s north — and that rate is 2.5 times higher in the Island Health region.

"It's alarming and it's scary," said Judith Sayers, the president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which supports 14 communities on or near Vancouver Island,

She said the high numbers are a result of poverty, overcrowding and lack of resources in some communities, and speaks to the need for more specific data.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends key populations for early vaccination, including adults in Indigenous communities — whether urban or rural — where infection can have disproportionate consequences.

The B.C. government, however, does not specify urban Indigenous populations for vaccine priority. Its priorities include Indigenous people living in remote and rural communities and high-risk people living in group settings like shelters, which could include some urban Indigenous people.

Read more about the situation 

(CBC News)

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.


Why there's no blanket recommendation on COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy

Without data on the safety of the vaccines during pregnancy and breastfeeding, there's a grey area for expecting mothers looking for answers to how the risk of COVID-19 compares with that of the immunizations.

While the United Kingdom advises those who are pregnant against having Pfizer-BioNtech's vaccine, authorities in Canada and the U.S. take a different approach. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which independently advises the Public Health Agency of Canada about immunization questions, concluded that if a risk assessment finds the "benefits of vaccine outweigh the potential risks for the individual" then authorized COVID-19 vaccines may be offered.

"I don't think it's appropriate in a situation like this to have a blanket, across the board recommendation to do it or not to do it," said Dr. Daniel Flanders of Toronto, a pediatrician who agrees with NACI's advice.

When U.S. researchers analyzed data from about 400,000 women aged 15 to 44 in the U.S. with COVID-19, they found the absolute risks of the infection during pregnancy were low. But pregnant women with COVID-19 were more likely to suffer severe outcomes such as being admitted to intensive care, being put on a ventilator and dying than non-pregnant women with COVID-19, the team found.

The study's authors recommended counselling pregnant women about the risk for severe COVID-19-associated illness and emphasizing measures to prevent infection.


Virtual learning has helped some Edmonton newcomers build confidence with the English language

Tilda Tian participates in an online English conversation program run by Catholic Social Services in Edmonton that has moved from city libraries to online during the pandemic. (Submitted by Tilda Tian)

Volunteers helping Edmonton newcomers connect and practise English during the pandemic say there are benefits to moving their program from lessons at city libraries to online.

Tilda Tian, who moved to Edmonton from China in August 2019, said the online conversations arranged through a program from Catholic Social Services are good for her mental health. She told CBC News that when she arrived at the Edmonton International Airport last year, she could barely communicate in English but has since improved her language skills and formed friendships through the program.

Program co-ordinator Janice Bardestani said the online meetings are more accessible for people with children and people who do not live near bus routes. She said some participants who used to show up three times a week are now joining the classes five times a week.

Lei Shi, an exchange student who wanted to improve his English, started attending the conversation circles in June. Though he returned to China in November, he still attends the sessions remotely, waking up as early as 4 a.m. to do so.

Shi said he enjoys learning about cooking skills and English idioms during the meetings. For example, she now knows what it means when someone says, "she sounds like a broken record."

Alphonse Orsot, a father of four who came to the city from Ivory Coast with his family in September 2019, said the online conversation circles have helped him feel more confident as an English speaker.

"Some of them have actually said, I prefer it online and I will stay with it this way," said Bardestaini. Once the pandemic ends, organizers plan to offer the conversation circles in both in-person and online formats.

Read more about the program and hear from the ESL students 

Find out more about COVID-19

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