Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for March 23

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for March 23.
Health-care workers wearing full protective suits play Angklung, an Indonesian traditional music instrument made from bamboo, outside Jakarta's Emergency Hospital Wisma Atlet on Tuesday. (M. Risyal Hidayata/Antara Foto/Reuters)

Conservatives say the federal government has no vision as to what a reopening will look like

In a motion before the House of Commons on Tuesday, the Conservatives demanded that the federal government develop and present to Parliament "a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions." The Conservative motion calls for a plan to be presented within 20 days of its passage.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole at an earlier news conference cited calls from national business organizations for a strategy to get Canadians back to work, and another from one of the country's largest unions for a plan to reopen borders.

During debate on the motion in the House of Commons, Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner pointed to a lack of Public Health Agency of Canada guidance on what Canadians who are fully vaccinated can and can't do.

"The federal government has to at least tell people what the plan is to develop benchmarks on how these tools are going to bring freedom, bring prosperity and bring normalcy back to Canadians' lives," she said.

Kevin Lamoureux, the parliamentary secretary to the Liberal government House leader, responded by saying the provinces are responsible for putting in place COVID-19 restrictions.

"Is it the Conservative Party's policy that Ottawa should start overriding provincial jurisdiction?" Lamoureux asked.

While not commenting on the specific issue at hand, federal and provincial health officials have raised concerns about COVID-19 numbers that have at best levelled off in a number of provinces, if not increased in recent days due to more transmissible variants of the coronavirus.

While that suggests a detailed reopening framework might be premature, O'Toole in his remarks pointed to the two allies Canada is most often compared to, neither of which are out of the woods with respect to the toll of the virus.

"The president of the United States and the prime minister of the United Kingdom have both released public plans for economic reopening," O'Toole said. "But [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau refuses to give Canadians clarity on whether and when regular and social life will be able to resume, and under what circumstances and conditions."

From The National

3rd COVID-19 wave hitting young Canadians harder

2 years ago
Duration 2:06
Many of the Canadians most vulnerable to COVID-19 have been vaccinated, but the majority of younger Canadians remain unprotected and hospitals are seeing the consequences.

IN BRIEF

Nearly 200,000 Ontarians over 80 have yet to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccination

Just under three-quarters of Ontarians age 80 and older have either been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have signed up for a shot, a proportion that has some health experts say is not high enough.

Demand for vaccination appointments among that cohort slowed to such an extent last week that the Ontario government opened up access to the next age group earlier than originally planned.

Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatric specialist at Sinai Health in Toronto, described the current vaccine uptake as "one of the more upsetting figures I've seen in some time."

"That is truly a very large number of individuals we are missing," said Stall. "Compared to our peers like Quebec, we are well behind when it comes to vaccinating this population."

In Montreal, more than 75 per cent of all residents age 65 and older had received their first shot by the middle of last week, according to local health officials.

Some potential factors that could explain the numbers include language and literacy issues, vaccine hesitancy, and an inability or reluctance for some seniors to go to mass vaccination sites.

To help bolster the numbers, the City of Toronto is employing mobile vaccination teams to reach seniors' communities, as well as enlisting librarians to help call more than 35,000 seniors to offer assistance with the vaccination process.

Read more about the situation 

Manitoba officials say now is not the time to significantly loosen restrictions

Manitoba won't be moving down into orange-level pandemic restrictions after spending more than four months in the red zone, Premier Brian Pallister and Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Tuesday.

In a news release, the province cited concerns over rising numbers of more transmissible coronavirus variants and the need to maintain stability in the health-care system.

As a result, Manitoba will stay at the highest level of restrictions on the pandemic response system.

However, some changes will take effect beginning Friday at 12:01 a.m., including increasing limits on outdoor gatherings in public places, weddings and funerals from 10 to 25 people, and increasing maximum capacity for retail stores from 250 to 500 people, provided a 50 per cent capacity guideline is followed.

Indoor and outdoor gathering limits at private residences remain unchanged, officials said.

Caution is the order of the day, Roussin said Tuesday.

"We see recent slow increase in the case numbers. We see an increasing proportion of our cases related to variants of concern," he said.

"We know that prolonged contact had been a significant factor in the beginning of our second wave."

Manitoba reported 98 new COVID-19 cases, 50 recoveries and one additional death on Tuesday. The seven-day case average is now just over 90, after the province spent almost a week under 60 at the beginning of the month.

A total of 929 deaths have been attributed to the virus in Manitoba during the course of the pandemic.

Read more about the pandemic in Manitoba

AstraZeneca trial results may have included 'outdated' information, U.S. health officials say 

The AstraZeneca vaccine developed with the University of Oxford has been approved for use in several countries, including Canada, but an unusual development has occurred in the U.S., less than 24 hours after the company put out a rosy statement on U.S. trial data.

AstraZeneca reported Monday that in a U.S. study of more than 30,000 people, the vaccine was found to be 79 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19, with no severe illnesses or hospitalizations among vaccinated volunteers.

But just hours after the encouraging results were reported, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued a statement saying its advisory Data and Safety Monitoring Board "expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data."

AstraZeneca said in a statement that the data it released Monday included cases up to Feb. 17.

But according to a report in the Washington Post, the monitoring board had seen subsequent data that suggested the effectiveness could be somewhere between 69 to 74 per cent, not 79, and had "strongly recommended" that the news release communicate that figure.

The vaccine has not yet been approved for use in the U.S.

U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the development was an unfortunate "unforced error" that might further discourage those who are reluctant to take vaccines.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician in Toronto, told CBC News Network it was unfortunate as "based on the snippets of information that we have now, and that we've seen in the past, this will probably end up being a very good vaccine."

AstraZeneca said that it will provide an update within 48 hours.

This is just the latest imbroglio for the Swedish-British pharma company, which has faced questions over messaging about dose regimens in its vaccine trials, its efficacy with seniors over 65, and, most recently, potential side effects for those who have suffered from blood clots (See the very next text entry).

Read more about the confusion

(CBC News)

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

Unpacking the data on blood clots and AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine

The European Union's drug watchdog said in a recent review that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not linked to an increase in the overall risk of blood clots after some incidents of concern with vaccinated individuals in some countries, including in Germany.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) also concluded that the benefits of protecting against COVID-19 — which itself results in clotting problems — outweigh the risks. At the same time, the EMA said it could not definitively rule out a link between the vaccine and specific, rare types of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia, or low levels of blood platelets.

Some of the experts CBC News spoke to believe the vaccine is safe, even for people with a history of blood clots.

"Anyone who has a history of blood clots might have an increased risk of blood clots at any point anyway," said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "But I don't believe that there would be a rationale to make a recommendation against using [the vaccine]."

Dr. Cora Constantinescu, an infectious diseases specialist from the Vaccine Hesitancy Clinic at Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary, said it's helpful to weigh the odds of contracting a blood clot after receiving a vaccine with the odds of ending up in the hospital due to the coronavirus.

"If you looked at five million people hospitalized with COVID-19, you would expect 100,000 to 500,000 of them to have clots," Constantinescu said in a recent interview with CBC News Network. "Keep in mind the risk of the disease itself is so much higher, and the more you wait to [get the vaccine], the less protected you are."

But Dr. David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said Germany's data offered a "compelling picture" that the blood clots were potentially linked to the vaccine in rare cases.

"At a minimum, I do not think it should be used in women aged 20 to 50 until we know more," said Fisman.

We're still answering your COVID-19 questions. We've received more than 71,000 of them since the start of the pandemic. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. Send your questions and stories to COVID@cbc.ca, and we'll address as many as we can.

AND FINALLY...

COVID-19 boom expected to keep bike industry on its toes for years to come

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna holds a news conference at Bushtukah, an outdoor gear store, in Ottawa on March 12. Health officials in Canada have recommended outdoor activities, such as cycling, as a way to get outdoors and remain active. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Things are pedal to the metal all over the country. Whether it's Calgary, Toronto or Halifax, bike shops are slammed, with a surge that started in March 2020 and has not let up — and a backlog that some experts say won't be cleared up for months or even years.

Market research firm NPD Group says Canadian numbers aren't tracked, but in the United States, sales of bicycles increased 75 per cent in 2020 compared with a year earlier. For the first two months of 2021, the increase year over year was 130 per cent.

Bicycles provide an outdoor activity at a time when COVID-19 travel bans and lockdowns have made staying indoors either suffocating or dangerous. And going for a bike ride is clearly safer — from a virus perspective in most parts of the country — than a high-intensity workout in a public gym.

At Sidesaddle Bike Shop in Vancouver, the message that plays when a customer calls warns that the store gets more than 400 inquiries a day.

"We actually don't even bother trying to answer the phone, which sounds like terrible customer service, but it's just we can't spread ourselves that thin," owner Andrea Smith said.

Curbside Cycle in Toronto, meanwhile, sends out an email to customers with a plea to stop calling or emailing when waiting on a pre-sold bike.

The rub, like a brake on a tire, is that Canadians are not unique in wanting to rediscover or increase their biking habits. The supply-side problems globally include a shortage of shipping containers and understaffing along parts of the supply chain due to physical distancing meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

David Régnier-Bourque of Cycles Devinci, in Chicoutimi, Que., said the past year has been "very chaotic," and he's not sure when demand will let up.

"So for the next 12 months, I don't think that the bicycle industry is going to be able to catch up with the demand. And in more than 12 months, we'll have to re-evaluate if the demand is as high as right now."

Read more about the trend

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.

To get this newsletter daily as an email, subscribe here.

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.

now