Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Feb. 23

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Feb. 23.
Doctors and nurses wait to receive China's Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine at a community vaccination centre in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Front-line workers and people considered high risk are first in line to be vaccinated in the territory. (Peter Parks/The Associated Press)

Frustration grows among seniors and caregivers over Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Sam Meister is 98 years old, and he's furious at the Ontario government's COVID-19 vaccination plan that is forcing seniors like him to remain segregated.

"I would like to be a free man," Meister said. "I would like to be a man that can move around and see family. … I only see inside the house."

Meister still lives in the home he bought with his wife in the 1980s in Toronto's north end. His wife died years ago and he now lives with his caregiver, Marizel Evangelista, who only leaves sporadically when groceries cannot be delivered. She hasn't been home with her family in nearly a year. Neither of them has been able to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Phase One of Ontario's inoculation plan included seniors in long-term care homes, but not those living in the general community. If Meister lived in another province he could have been vaccinated by now, but Ontario deemed seniors living in the community to be a lower priority than essential workers — that is, until the province changed course just last week.

Now, Ontario says seniors aged 80 and above will get vaccinated next, before essential workers, but the wait will still be at least a few weeks.

Meister's doctor, Samir Sinha, is director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network. He has been advocating for the Ontario government to change course and he's grateful it has, but he said that seniors living in their homes should have been closer to the front of the line for inoculations from the beginning.

"This is absolutely the right thing to do, and it's frankly long overdue," Sinha said. "Age is the greatest risk factor for getting sick and dying from COVID-19, so that needs to be considered when administering vaccines."

It's a situation that hasn't been an issue in other provinces, most of which are following the recommendation of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). This federal group sets best practices, and says seniors above 70 years of age (not 80, as in Ontario) should be immunized next.

Sinha estimates that around 120,000 seniors in Ontario's long-term care homes and retirement homes have been vaccinated so far. Under Ontario's current plan, vaccinations for those over 80 in the general population will begin in March. Depending on the supply, some estimate it could take until July to inoculate this age group.

Sinha said Ontario should be following NACI's recommendation. He also said seniors in the community should have been prioritized even before medical professionals like himself, who have a significantly lower chance of dying from the virus.

"My chance of dying from COVID-19 is less than one per cent, Sam's is 25 per cent," Sinha said. "So if there was one vaccine, where do you go and have the biggest impact? People like Sam. That's exactly what the science says you should do."

From The National

Frustration abounds as hotel quarantine rules come into effect

The National

2 days agoVideo
1:57
Travellers entering Canada by air are now required to arrange a three-day hotel stay to await the result of a COVID-19 test, but there’s frustration around varying costs and how to book a room. 1:57

IN BRIEF

Quebecers born in 1936 and earlier to get COVID-19 vaccine next as province ramps up campaign

Quebec's COVID-19 vaccination campaign is slowly ramping up, with people born in 1936 and earlier in the general population able to get shots as soon as next week.

Premier François Legault made the announcement during Tuesday afternoon's COVID-19 briefing at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. The atrium of the stadium, once home to the Montreal Expos, has been converted into a vaccination site.

The province's first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in Quebec on Dec. 14, and the inoculation campaign has since focused on residents in long-term care homes and private seniors' homes, as well as health-care workers.

So far, more than 350,000 Quebecers have received shots, accounting for less than four per cent of the population. The pace of the province's vaccination efforts has garnered criticism, including from Ottawa.

In recent weeks, the province has been prepping several vaccination sites, including the one at Olympic Stadium and the Palais des congrès, a convention centre in downtown Montreal. The campaign will begin in Montreal, but Quebecers across the province can make appointments as of Thursday.

Read more on Quebec's vaccination expansion

COVID-19 hit federal prisons twice as hard in 2nd wave of pandemic, report says

COVID-19 has hit federal prisons twice as hard in the second wave of the pandemic compared to the first, according to a new report from Canada's correctional investigator that recommends an inmate vaccination strategy to prevent more outbreaks behind bars.

In a report released Tuesday, Ivan Zinger noted there have been 880 infections between November 2020 and Feb. 1, 2021, up from 361 cases during the first wave of the pandemic. The number of institutions reporting outbreaks also jumped, from six in the first wave to 13 in the second.

In all, about 10 per cent of the federal prison population has been infected with COVID-19, compared to just two per cent of Canada's general population.

Zinger recommends that Correctional Service Canada "develop and immediately make public" its plans and priorities for a national inmate vaccination strategy. He said the initial supply of vaccines allocated to date, which represents less than five per cent of the inmate population, is "an important first step in protecting the most vulnerable and those at highest risk of severe disease outcome behind bars."

Though active cases are now down to about a dozen, Zinger said he's concerned about the impact of ongoing restrictive measures and extended lockdowns on inmate physical and mental health. Included in his recommendations is a call for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to explore alternatives to incarceration and to "address the failings of Canada's aging, antiquated and costly federal prisons."

Read more on Zinger's recommendations

Low-wage earners hit hardest by pandemic job market

The pandemic is hitting lower-wage jobs the hardest, with a recent CIBC Economics report showing that all of the jobs lost in the country last year as a result of the pandemic earned $27.81 an hour or less. According to Statistics Canada, the average hourly wage rate for full- and part-time employees in 2020 was around $31 an hour.

The January report, written by CIBC deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal, used Statistics Canada data about the pandemic's impact on below-average wages. It did not include the actual number of jobs lost to the pandemic last year. The country lost 213,000 jobs in total in January, according to Statistics Canada and 63,000 in December, but gained 62,000 in November.

The jobs lost in January were entirely part-time and hit the retail sectors in Ontario and Quebec particularly hard, as both provinces locked down to combat the spread of the virus.

The CIBC report noted that the statistics are similar to recessions like that of the 2008-09 financial crisis, with one stark difference.

Higher-income Canadians, those earning $27.82 or more per hour, "have experienced net job gains during the current crisis — an anomaly during a recession," Tal wrote. "So the surprise here is that, not only did high-wage earners not experience job loss, but in fact they have gained almost 350,000 jobs over the past year."

The pandemic is "a service-oriented crisis and that sector is populated by low-paying jobs," Tal said. "This is a very abnormal and asymmetrical crisis."

Read more about the pandemic's effect on the job market

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

Are the vaccines effective against all the coronavirus variants of concern?

We regularly answer your questions about the pandemic. You can send a question to COVID@cbc.ca, and we'll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network.

Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna say their COVID-19 vaccines appear to be effective against two variants of concern first identified in the U.K. and South Africa, based on blood samples from people who've been vaccinated. But more research is needed on these two vaccines, while other candidates already have some real-world data on their effectiveness against the variants.

The good news is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 doesn't seem to mutate as much or as quickly as the influenza virus that causes the flu. Even with the current, more transmissible variants of concern, people who've been vaccinated are not falling severely ill or dying from COVID-19 in large numbers.

But to prepare in case that starts to happen, drug makers are already re-working their vaccines.

Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer's top viral vaccine scientists, said last week that his company has already made a template for a prototype vaccine targeting the variant first identified in South Africa.

The re-tooling work took on new urgency after South Africa paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after data from a small trial suggested the vaccine did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the B1351 variant now dominant in the country.

Despite that, Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, told Dr. Brian Goldman of CBC's The Dose that he remains optimistic the existing vaccines can fight the coronavirus variants. That's because five different vaccines have been submitted to Health Canada for approval, Chagla said, and each may play a role in controlling the variants.

"The best vaccine is the one that's administered," Chagla said. "Every Canadian should be hopeful that they can get one of these vaccines, period."

The clinical trials of both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech were completed before the variants of concern took off worldwide.

Dr. Noni MacDonald, a pediatrics professor at Dalhousie University in Halfax and a vaccine safety researcher, said as experts gain a more detailed and sophisticated perspective on how the COVID-19 vaccines work, they'll also gain a better understanding of what types of protection they offer.

Read answers to other questions in our latest instalment.

AND FINALLY...

Meet two nurses working on COVID-19 vaccination teams in the N.W.T.

Ella Aitken moved to the Northwest Territories in December from Victoria to be part of the territory's immunization team. (Anna Desmarais/CBC )

Two nurses flew to Nahanni Butte, N.W.T., early Friday morning with only their luggage and a grey freezer full of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

The nurses were one of a series of front-line teams making up the territory's COVID-19 immunization response team — affectionately nicknamed CIRT on their matching T-shirts. They were tasked with giving the second dose of vaccine to those who'd already been given the first dose, as well as answering any questions for those still considering getting the vaccine.

Head nurse Sheila Laity said she was in "semi-retirement" when COVID-19 hit, working odd shifts as an orthopedic nurse and in the emergency room at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife. After reading about the territory's vaccine plan in December, Laity said she reached out to the territory to see if they needed any help.

"It seemed like a really exciting adventure [and] an opportunity to be involved in something that will have a major impact."

The vaccination clinic is a happy place to be, Laity said, because most who come here are "really excited" to get their vaccine.

Ella Aitken, 23, is one of the other nurses on the Nahanni Butte team. The recent graduate worked 12-hour shifts on the respiratory floor of a hospital in Victoria during the first months of the pandemic. One of her co-workers, who used to work in the N.W.T., told Aitken in December they were looking for nurses for the N.W.T.'s immunization team. So Aitken put her name forward for the job.

Aitken's mother spent a few years of her childhood in the N.W.T. and kept mementos of that time, like a bear rug, in their home. She wanted to come see the land her mother had told her so much about.

"I've always felt a calling to the North," she said. "Everything just fell into place and it worked out pretty well."

Read more about the nurses contributing to N.W.T.'s vaccination efforts

Find out more about COVID-19

For full coverage of how your province or territory is responding to COVID-19, visit your local CBC News site.

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See the answers to COVID-19 questions asked by CBC viewers and readers.

Still looking for more information on the pandemic? Reach out to us at covid@cbc.ca if you have any questions.

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