Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Jan. 12

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Jan. 12.
A medical worker for the Greek National Public Health Organisation (NPHO) takes a sample from a man on a scooter at a Covid-19 drive-through testing station, at Menidi suburb near Athens on Tuesday. (Yorgos Karahalis/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Ontario issues stay-at-home order, distance learning extended for 1 month in 5 regions

Premier Doug Ford, saying Ontario "is in crisis," announced a provincial stay-at-home order and new restrictions Tuesday.

The province says it is issuing the stay-at-home order effective Thursday at 12:01 a.m., which will require everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes, like going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health-care services, for exercise or for essential work.

"The system is on the brink of collapse," said Ford. "It's on the brink of being overwhelmed."

All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m. Among the other measures, non-essential construction is further restricted.

Most importantly for parents of school-aged children, in person-instruction won't begin again until at least Feb. 10 for Hamilton, Peel Region, Toronto, Windsor-Essex and York Region.

The measures come in the wake of sobering new modelling regarding hospital admissions and long-term care vulnerabilities.

"Community transmission is widespread. It's in our hospitals, it's in our long-term care homes and it's in our workplaces," Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday.

Public health experts are also warning that a new, more easily transmissible variant of the virus first identified in the U.K. could begin spreading rapidly in the province. Eight more people infected with the U.K. variant of the coronavirus in Ontario were identified on Monday.

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COVID-19 curfew has additional impact on some Quebecers

The National

4 days agoVideo
Quebec's new COVID-19 curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. ET is having a bigger impact on those with exemptions for work and medical care, who face being stopped multiple times by police, and people who are homeless, who are asked to go to shelters. 2:01


Government secures another 20 million does of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech

Canada has reached an agreement to purchase another 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.

That doubles the number of doses the country has locked in for that vaccine and brings the total number scheduled to arrive this year from two approved vaccine makers, including Moderna, to 80 million. It's enough to vaccinate the entire Canadian population, according to the required two-dose regimen.

"From our agreements with Pfizer and Moderna alone ... we are on track to have every Canadian who wants a vaccine receive one by September," Trudeau said at a news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.

The federal government has published a delivery schedule this week that includes shipment dates and the number of doses expected to be delivered to the provinces and territories until the end of February.

Canada has made more commitments for more vaccine per person than any other country, which some critics decry as hoarding at the expense of developing countries. Health Canada could still potentially give the green light to other vaccine candidates from AstraZeneca-Oxford and Janssen Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said on Tuesday Canada is on track to vaccinate all adult Canadians who are eligible by the end of September. But numbers from a third-party tally as of Monday night indicate the pace may have to accelerate in the coming weeks to keep that goal in sight, with about 377,560 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the country so far.

Read more about the situation

Health-care workers battled burnout before COVID-19, newly published survey reveals

A research team at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital surveyed physicians, nurses and allied health professionals to gauge their level of burnout in 2018 and 2019, findings that are being published in full Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Among the findings: Nearly 78 per cent of nurses who responded to the survey reported feeling a sense of burnout in the previous month. So did roughly 73 per cent of professionals such as physical, respiratory and occupational therapists, pharmacists, social workers and speech-language pathologists. About 65 per cent of physicians who responded to the survey also felt the strain.

"If it was that bad before, what's it going to be now?" said vascular surgeon Dr. Barry Rubin, who helped spearhead the survey. Rubin wants to conduct another survey mid-pandemic.

Lhamo Dolkar, who worked in front-line patient care in Toronto as a nurse and is now in a public health role, knows the stressors all too well.

Early in the pandemic, she endured a cumbersome ritual upon arriving at her Whitby, Ont., home from a shift, mindful of the health and safety of her family and four boys.

"My kids have become so programmed now that they ask me, 'Can I touch you now? Do you have coronavirus?'" she said. "That truly breaks my heart."

Calling nurses "the backbone of the Canadian health-care system," Dolkar re-emphasizes they need to be invited to the table for government policy-making discussions.

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Manitoba sees its lowest new case total in nearly 3 months

There have been positive developments early this week in Manitoba, which had some of the highest case rates in Canada per capita at one point several weeks ago.

The province on Tuesday reported 92 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest daily count in nearly three months. Nearly half of the cases, 44 in all, are in the Winnipeg health region.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, the acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, said in a phone call with reporters the numbers show the lockdown is paying off.

"It's significant. It's encouraging. The numbers are coming down, our hospitalizations are coming down. It's a testament to the hard work and dedication of Manitobans to adhere to the orders," he said.

Meanwhile, leaders from Peguis First Nation, about 190 kilometres north of Winnipeg, said Monday the community had gone 25 days without a new case after a late autumn outbreak.

"There was a sense of elation for our team, that sense of accomplishment, but also a sense of people understanding the importance of the COVID protocol," said Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson.

Last week, the province extended strict lockdown measures for another two weeks after contact tracers uncovered hundreds of COVID-19 cases linked to holiday gatherings. They will be in place at least until Jan. 22.

The Conservative government said that to help businesses cope, it will expand its bridge grant program, extending the application period to Jan. 31 and raising the one-time payment amount to $10,000 for first-time applicants.

Read more about what's happening in Manitoba 

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.


Canada looks to reverse trend by building back vaccine development capabilities

The team at Saskatoon's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) was among the first out of the gate with promising COVID-19 research, but did not have the manufacturing capability to create vaccine components needed to keep its momentum going. It was a temporary setback that shed light on essential gaps in Canadian infrastructure.

With new funding from multiple levels of government, VIDO has started building what it needs to create human vaccines in-house well into the future.

Scaffolding outside the lab at the University of Saskatchewan is a sign of the ongoing renovations there. After they're completed next fall, the upgrades could allow researchers to make up to 40 million doses of the VIDO team's COVID-19 vaccines each year.

"For the country to be better prepared, we need to have this capacity," said Volker Gerdts, VIDO's CEO.

Quebec-based biopharmaceutical company Medicago, which has done essential work on the Ebola and H1N1 virus, is also in the mix. By the end of 2023, Medicago expects to be making vaccines from start to finish in the new manufacturing plant in the eastern part of Quebec City.

"We hope to be able to produce anywhere between 500 million and one billion doses per year," said Nathalie Charland, a senior director with Medicago.

Through privatization and globalization, Canada lost some of its capacity from a time in the 20th century when labs here produced vaccines for the world, said Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Now, Halperin said, "we need to reverse that trend."

In the meantime, Medicago's plant-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate is now in Phase 2 clinical trials. If things go according to plan, there will be 80 million doses by the end of this year, albeit mostly produced at facilities outside the country.


What have we learned so far about COVID-19 transmission in schools?

Elementary school-aged children returned to classrooms across Quebec Monday morning for the first time since the Christmas break. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

During the fall term, health officials learned there's a higher risk of transmission among older kids and teens — closer to that experienced by adults — and a lower risk in younger children, said a virus expert.

While our understanding of coronavirus transmission in children and teens increased somewhat, there remains a lack of definitive data about the spread of coronavirus in Canadian schools, according to Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at Winnipeg's University of Manitoba.

That lack of data has "created a lot of questions in people's minds," said Kindrachuk.

Relatively few occurrences of ongoing transmission among Canadian students indicate school measures — such as physical distancing, smaller cohorts, masking and hand-washing — coupled with screening, testing and tracing have been part of an important, robust strategy that we need to maintain, Dr. Nisha Thampi said.

"Screening is not perfect because a significant number of children, youth and even adults can enter the environment with pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic COVID-19," said Thampi, medical director of infection prevention and control at Ottawa's Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. "So knowing that we can't completely eliminate the risk of bringing cases into the school environment, the next step is our mitigation measures or preventing the spread in the classroom."

Where we've fallen down, Thampi said, is in providing adequate support for families required to isolate when one person in a household tests positive for COVID-19.

Read more about COVID-19 challenges and schools

Find out more about COVID-19

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