Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Feb. 22

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Feb. 22.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference at 10 Downing Street in central London Monday after setting out the government’s four-step plan to ease restrictions from a third COVID-19 lockdown. Johnson expressed hope that life could get back to normal by the end of June. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

P.E.I., Nova Scotia expand vaccination efforts for people over 80

Prince Edward Island's first community vaccination clinic opened in Charlottetown on Monday, and Elinor Neuffe was one of about 150 Islanders age 80 and over to get their shot.

"I'm feeling very lucky that we are able to get them," Neuffe, said after receiving her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine three months away from her 82nd birthday. "Let's just hope that pretty soon the whole world will be vaccinated, or 80 per cent."

Later this week, clinics will open in Summerside, Montague and O'Leary. The province is planning to get about 900 vaccinations done a week at the clinics, with all the booked appointments for first and second doses cleared by the end of March.

The province has also made plans for clinics to inoculate Indigenous adults. The Chief Public Health Office is working with health-care centres in Abegweit and Lennox Island First Nations to get everything in place, with those clinics set to open next Monday.

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia also expanded its vaccination efforts on Monday with a prototype clinic for people aged 80 and up at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

Bernice Burns, 82, was the first one to get a shot at 8 a.m. "It's an honour really, it really is," Burns said after rolling up her sleeve for the vaccination. "I was very excited when they called me."

Burns said she won't necessarily be going out more until everyone else also has the vaccine. She said she might feel safer when she gets her second dose, but that doesn't mean she'll start ducking any public health rules.

Five hundred people have been invited to get their first shot at the clinic over the next four days. They were chosen randomly from among people 80 years and older who live within 100 kilometres of the IWK. They will receive a followup shot in several weeks.

The first prototype clinic is designed to figure out the most efficient way to vaccinate the 48,000 people in the province over the age of 80.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said clinic staff will examine the best way to make sure that people are aware of the clinic and to get them through the doors. Researchers at Monday's clinic will conduct interviews with people being vaccinated.

From The National

Ottawa confident provinces are ready for flood of vaccines

The National

11 days ago
Ottawa says it's confident the provinces are ready ahead of the largest vaccine delivery yet, with 643,000 doses expected to arrive from Pfizer and Moderna. It's an injection of hope as variant cases rise, adding a new layer of worry as lockdowns ease. 2:35


They want to work, but thousands of asylum seekers are waiting on the sidelines

Like thousands of other asylum seekers across the country, Marius Tapé is stuck in limbo waiting for the federal government to grant him a work permit.

It normally takes just a couple of weeks — sometimes up to a month and a half — for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to grant asylum seekers work permits. But, because of COVID-19, the waiting list is long and growing.

"I want to work. I want to help during the pandemic. I want to be useful to the government," said Tapé, noting he'd like to be a worker in the province's health-care network.

The engineer arrived in Canada from the Ivory Coast in July with his teenage daughter, joining his wife and three other children who had already settled in Granby, Que. "I've been sitting on the same couch for seven months," he said.

No one from IRCC would agree to an interview, but in an email, spokesperson Derek Abma said moving most of its services online has slowed things down. It's not clear when the pace will return to normal. He said IRCC is reaching out to claimants to book appointments for eligibility interviews and is trying to be more flexible.

But immigration lawyer Stéphanie Valois says it will take more than that. She has 15 clients playing the same frustrating waiting game.

"For refugee claimants, I would say it's particularly stressful because the fact of just claiming asylum is already a stressful procedure," she said. "They're not able to just get on with their lives."

Valois says she has heard of claimants having difficulty opening bank accounts or renting apartments because they are still waiting for official documents from IRCC.

She says many of these new arrivals want to work in the health-care sector, meaning the country is leaving valuable help on the sidelines during the pandemic.

Read more on the difficulties asylum seekers are facing

AstraZeneca vaccine review is in the 'final stages,' Health Canada says

Health Canada's chief medical adviser said Monday the department is poised to make a decision on whether to authorize a promising COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca in the coming days.

Dr. Supriya Sharma told the House of Commons health committee that the regulator has received all the necessary scientific information from the company but is still looking into questions about labelling and the product monograph — the information disseminated by Health Canada to medical professionals about how and when a vaccine should be administered and in what groups.

The department has been saying for weeks that its decision on the product would be released soon.

"That review is ongoing. It is in the final stages and the length of time that that takes is really dependent on a number of factors," Sharma said, adding the regulator has put some questions to AstraZeneca and is awaiting responses.

Other countries — notably Australia, the European Union and the United Kingdom — already have authorized the product for use in their jurisdictions, but under different conditions.

In Australia, for example, the product was approved but regulators there recommended a three-month wait between shots because data suggest the product's efficacy rate improves with a longer interval. The European Medicines Agency recommended a dose interval of between four and 12 weeks.

Read more about the AstraZeneca vaccine

Migrant workers at Red Deer, Alta., slaughterhouse say they've felt unfair blame amid growing COVID-19 outbreak

When the Olymel slaughterhouse in Red Deer, Alta., closed temporarily last week during a growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases, many workers expressed relief.

But as news articles about the shutdown were posted online — some of which highlighted the facility's migrant worker base — workers noticed a hurtful trend.

"There are some comments I read in the articles or the news, saying that they have to send back the foreigners to their own land," said one worker, whom CBC News agreed to keep anonymous. "It's too painful on our part."

There were 445 cases linked to the plant outbreak as of Sunday. Of those, 205 cases are active and one worker has died. Last week, Olymel said it would temporarily shut down the plant due to the rapidly growing COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.

Prior to the shutdown, workers said they were afraid to go back to work, fearing for their health and the health of their families, several of whom described negative effects on their mental wellbeing.

Since the shutdown, workers have expressed dismay at rhetoric that seemed to frame the outbreak as a consequence of their actions while mitigating the realities of their work environment. Workers are also currently laid off without pay and they say the financial stress is adding to tensions.

Read more about workers' concerns

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.


COVID-19 vaccination linked to lower hospitalization risk in real-world data from Scotland

Scotland's vaccination drive appears to be markedly reducing the risk of hospitalization for COVID-19, suggesting that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca shots are highly effective in preventing severe infections, preliminary study findings showed on Monday.

Results of the study, which covered the entire Scottish population of 5.4 million people, showed that by the fourth week after the initial dose, the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines were found to reduce the risk of hospitalization by up to 85 per cent and 94 per cent respectively.

"These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future," said Aziz Sheikh, a professor at the University of Edinburgh's Usher Institute who co-led the study.

At a media briefing, Sheik cautioned that the results are preliminary data and have yet to be peer-reviewed by independent scientists, but said: "I am very encouraged. We now have national evidence ... that vaccination provides protection against COVID-19 hospitalizations."

He said he expected other countries using the same two vaccines and a similar strategy — such as England and Wales for example — would see a similar positive impact in reducing the number of people being hospitalized with COVID-19.

Data for the vaccines' effective in Scotland was gathered between Dec. 8 and Feb. 15. Researchers said that during this period, 1.14 million vaccines were administered and 21 per cent of Scotland's population had received a first dose.

Among those aged 80 and over — one of the highest risk groups for COVID-19 — vaccination was associated with an 81 per cent reduction in hospitalization risk in the fourth week, when the results for both vaccines were combined.


Salvation Army volunteers dish up hot meals for truckers to show 'deepest appreciation' amid pandemic obstacles

Volunteer Darlene Collier brings a hot meal, one of dozens prepared each day, to a truck driver last April. Volunteers served more than 2,600 meals to truck drivers last year. (Submitted by Rene Loveless)

Volunteers at the Salvation Army in Newfoundland and Labrador are renewing their efforts to provide hot meals to truck drivers finding it hard to access some services on the road in the province.

The Salvation Army first started the effort in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, serving more than 2,600 meals between March and June to truckers coming on and off the ferries in Port aux Basques.

The project has resumed now that the province finds itself moved back to Alert Level 5, and some restaurants and rest stops have closed or limited services. Some drivers say the closures have resulted in life on the road getting tougher.

"Some places will let us walk in to get food and coffee and stuff like that, other places will not," driver Adam Leyte told CBC News last week. "We've already lost access to a lot of washroom facilities."

After hearing about the need for a hot meal and having a conversation with the provincial government, Salvation Army Maj. René Loveless said a team of volunteers came together quickly to reopen the commercial kitchen at the Port aux Basques church building, where they started putting together the meals on Sunday.

"The first meal today is a turkey dinner with all the trimmings," Loveless said Sunday. "The thing about it is these meals are always very hearty and substantial. We want the truckers to really enjoy these meals, and certainly be encouraged by what we're doing. We see this as a way of showing our deepest appreciation for the essential service that they're providing to our province at such a time as this."

Loveless said the team of over 50 volunteers put more than 3,300 hours into the effort overall since the start of the pandemic. The amount of meals volunteers serve varies from day to day, he said, as they work with Marine Atlantic to figure out how many truck drivers are booked on each crossing.

"We never ran out of meals," Loveless said. "We came very close sometimes to using up each and every meal that we prepared, but we certainly were able to meet the need each and every time."

Read more on the project in N.L.

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With files from Reuters