Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Nov. 12

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Nov. 12.
Signs display physical distancing measures in a men's bathroom in London, U.K. (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Hundreds of Alberta doctors call for 'circuit-breaker' lockdown as premier, top doctor make announcement

A group of more than 430 Alberta physicians and three major health-care unions have signed a letter to Premier Jason Kenney on Thursday endorsing the idea of a "circuit-breaker" targeted lockdown as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in the province. "There is no more time. We have to act now," said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, who co-authored the letter.

Alberta's government is expected to introduce further restrictions later today. Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, have scheduled a news conference for 5:30 p.m. ET. Though restrictions were not final as of Wednesday, officials said the measures were expected to be in line with the premier's messaging over the past few weeks, involving modest and targeted measures — moves that officials emphasized do not constitute a lockdown.

In the letter, the signatories said they feel it is their duty to warn of the "impending health system crisis" resulting from the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta. "We have reached a juncture where only strong and decisive mandatory measures can prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed," the letter reads. Those measures, which the letter said should be time-limited, include directives to work from home for those who are able, the limiting of contacts to those within the household or a support bubble and the suspension of group indoor activities. Schools should be kept open for in-person learning, the letter said, "due to their vital importance."

Ladha said the group is not calling for the closure of retail businesses given that there's little evidence of the virus spreading in such settings. The letter goes on to cite Alberta's rise in cases, high levels of test positivity and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions. In the view of the doctors, a circuit-breaker targeted lockdown would consist of strict, time-limited measures that would help prevent a complete lockdown should the health system become overwhelmed. "The time for incremental measures has passed, and voluntary measures, requested Oct. 9, have not blunted the rise in cases," the letter read. "Our testing system is strained, and contact tracing [capabilities] have collapsed."

CBC News reported Wednesday that Hinshaw could introduce mandatory measures such as reduced business hours or capacity limits for businesses, worship services and fitness classes. The restrictions would be a reversal in tactics for the province. Last week, Kenney spoke strongly against bringing in mandatory constraints, instead urging "personal responsibility" when it comes to attending parties or hosting social gatherings. The province's doctors said that half-measures won't have enough impact. "We need something strong and mandatory in order to bend the curve," Ladha said.

Click below to watch more from The National

What is a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown and does it work?

1 year ago
Duration 1:58
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Canada, provinces are implementing the short, sharp "circuit-breaker" lockdowns to fight the spread of the virus and prevent health-care systems from being overwhelmed. 1:58


Ontario unveils new COVID-19 modelling after blowing through previous projections

New modelling of Ontario's COVID-19 outlook shows the pandemic is worsening across the province overall, with resident deaths in long-term care homes increasing each week — and case numbers likely exceeding European cities currently in some form of lockdown if case counts grow by five per cent. The province's seven-day growth average right now is already about four per cent, said Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and co-chair of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table. Over the last three days, the growth rate has been about six per cent, he said. A five per cent growth rate is an "optimistic" scenario, Brown said on Thursday.

Asked if restrictions could effectively control the level of growth seen today, Brown said: "I do not believe there's a way that the cases will change without action." Dr. David Williams, Ontario's Medical Officer of Health, emphasized the importance of individual behaviour. "If everybody did what they were supposed to do, we can bring these numbers down," Williams said. Projections suggest Ontario will hit approximately 6,500 new cases per day before the end of December at five per cent growth. The updated modelling comes as the province blew through its earlier projection of 1,200 new daily cases by mid-November, with 1,575 new cases of the virus Thursday — its third straight record-high day.

Today's figures come after a blockbuster news report that the government rejected advice from its own public health agency when it developed the new tiered, colour-coded framework for imposing COVID-19 restrictions. The Toronto Star reported late Wednesday that Public Health Ontario recommended setting several key thresholds for the red "control" tier — the most stringent set of restrictions before a full lockdown — at levels four times lower than those the government ultimately chose. Dr. Shelley Deeks, chief health protection officer at the agency, told the newspaper she only found out about the government's decision when the framework was unveiled publicly last week. Deeks declined to speak with CBC News today, but a spokesperson for Public Health Ontario said the agency stands behind her comments.

Read more about what's happening in Ontario

Quebec premier mulls temporarily closing schools this winter to reduce spread of COVID-19

Quebec Premier François Legault said schools might have to close this winter, extending the holiday break in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Schools and workplaces have the highest rates of transmission in the province, Legault said during his Thursday news briefing. The premier said 1,174 classes are currently shut down because of positive cases, 324 of those in the last two days alone. It is clear, he said, that schools are a vector for the virus in the province.

Closing schools in advance of the December holiday break, or extending the break after the holidays, may be a way to give the province a better shot at stopping the second wave. That could then mean extending the school year into the summer — as far as July, Legault said. He said the government has been discussing this possibility with unions as it would affect teachers and staff as well. Legault made it clear that this is still up for discussion. It is a last-resort solution, he said, and no decision has been made. "We have to consider the possibility of closing schools for a very specific time — a well-defined period."

When asked, Legault declined to say whether he is considering closing businesses again as well. At the National Assembly on Thursday morning, the opposition grilled the Legault government on what they said is a lack of action on equipping schools with proper ventilation and filtration systems. Legault said according to public health officials, ventilation is not to blame for the high transmission rates in schools. However, he said, public health has been ordered to examine the issue once again.

Read more about the situation

Daily COVID-19 cases, deaths on the rise in almost every U.S. state

The U.S. has recorded more than 240,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 10.3 million confirmed infections, with new cases soaring to all-time highs of more than 120,000 per day over the past week. Health experts have blamed the increase in part on the onset of cold weather and growing frustration with mask-wearing and other precautions. Cases per day are on the rise in 49 states, and deaths per day are climbing in 39. A month ago, the U.S. was seeing about 730 COVID-19 deaths per day on average. It has now surpassed 970.

Texas on Wednesday became the first state with more than one million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and California is closing in on that mark. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said all restaurants, bars and gyms statewide will have to close at 10 p.m. starting Friday, a major retreat in a corner of the U.S. that had seemingly brought the virus largely under control months ago. He also barred private gatherings of more than 10 people. According to the COVID Tracking Project by The Atlantic, there have been about 15,000 new hospitalizations since the Nov. 3 election.

Among the many health officials sounding the alarm is Dr. Julie Watson of Integris Health in Oklahoma. "We are in trouble," she said. "If nothing is done soon to slow the rise in cases, our hospitals will be more overwhelmed than they already are and we won't be able to be there for all of those who need it." The American Medical Association renewed its plea for mask-wearing, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing. "With the holidays quickly approaching, each of us must do everything possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19," AMA president Susan Bailey said. "Failing to do our part will prolong the suffering and disruption to our lives and inevitably lead to more deaths of our friends, neighbours and loved ones."

Read more about what's happening in the U.S.

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.


Promising new therapy for COVID-19 cleared by U.S., still under review by Health Canada

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given the green light to a promising monoclonal antibody therapy co-developed by Canadian scientists to treat mild to moderate coronavirus infections — a groundbreaking product that hasn't been approved by Health Canada for use in this country.

The antibody treatment, called bamlanivimab, produced positive results in clinical trials and reduced the severity of COVID-19 in patients with underlying health conditions (such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, obesity or being over the age of 65) while also cutting hospitalization rates. U.S. data show that people with comorbidities — two or more medical conditions at one time — are far more likely to die from COVID-19. This drug could help reduce those mortality rates.

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system's ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses. Bamlanivimab is specifically designed to block the SARS-CoV-2 virus from attaching to human cells. The antibody in question, LY-CoV555, was discovered by scientists at Vancouver-based AbCellera in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Vaccine Research Center (VRC). The treatment was co-developed with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.

While the clinical data was submitted to U.S. and Canadian regulators for approvals at roughly the same time in early October, Health Canada said it is not yet ready to approve the drug and its review process continues. "Although Health Canada has received some applications, all the necessary data supporting a vaccine or treatment approval have not yet been received. The decision on vaccine and treatment approval will be made based on the evidence submitted by the sponsors," a spokesperson for the department said.


Indie booksellers thriving during pandemic thanks to new ways of connecting with customers

A customer pays at TYPE Books in Toronto. 'We've had incredible support,' said co-owner Joanne Saul about her customers amid the pandemic. (CBC)

When the pandemic first hit, independent bookstores felt their share of pain. Lockdowns in some regions brought foot traffic to a halt and publishers began holding back titles, waiting for more favourable conditions. But with the fall came a flood of new titles while booksellers across Canada are finding new ways to connect with customers, writes CBC's Eli Glasner.

In Toronto, TYPE Books co-owner Joanne Saul took to delivering purchases when restrictions closed her doors. "We had incredible support," she said of the local customers she met when she and her co-owner jumped in the car. As readers hunker down to try and ride out the pandemic, what Saul and other owners have observed is an increased appetite for understanding. "People are trying to connect," she said. "People are trying to learn, trying to make sense of the world.… That's something that good books can do."

The push to support the neighbourhood shop predates the pandemic, said Doug Minett, executive director of the newly formed Canadian Independent Booksellers Association. "It's called localism," said Minett. If you're looking for an example, it doesn't get much more local than The Bookshelf in Guelph, Ont., a store run by Minett's family. When the pandemic clamped down, he said they came up with a complementary pairing of books and wine. "We had a liquor licence. [Premier] Doug Ford in Ontario said, 'Hey, you can deliver it.'" Minett said The Bookshelf's book and wine deliveries have already reached thousands.

Read more about the bookstores here

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With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters