Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Nov. 8

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for November 8th.
Hired performers are shown as travellers line up Monday to check into Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines flights Monday at Heathrow Airport in the U.K., bound for the United States on the first day of the lifting of entry restrictions for non-American citizens. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Border-town mayors call for end to Canada's COVID-19 test requirement for travellers

The United States opened its borders Monday to the greatest extent since the early days of the pandemic, allowing vaccinated fliers from several countries to enter, as well as those arriving via Canada and Mexico through land and sea points of entry.

Several border-town mayors on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border took that occasion to hold a virtual news conference to call on Canada to nix its pricey COVID-19 test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers.

When entering Canada, no matter how short their trip, travellers must take a pre-arrival molecular COVID-19 test — such as a PCR test — which can cost anywhere from $150 to $300. Sometimes travellers can get free or discounted tests, but they aren't available in all parts of the U.S., and might not provide results within a traveller's time frame. It is seen as an inhibitor to those who might otherwise hop over the border for a trip that lasts over a couple overnight stays or even just several hours.

To help ease logistical problems for Canadians taking short trips, Canada now allows people crossing into the U.S. to take their test in Canada and then use it upon their return — as long as it's less than 72 hours old. But a Canadian could take their test in Canada, be exposed to COVID-19 while in the U.S., and then return home with no further testing.

"The current system would allow someone to take a PCR test in Canada, cross into Detroit to cheer on the [Detroit Lions football team] with 65,000 other fans in the stadium, and then return to Canada using the test they took before leaving," said Drew Wilkens, mayor of Windsor, Ont. "How is that test of any use to anyone?"

Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal-based cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology, told CBC News Network that another challenge is that an infection would likely take two to three days to show up on test, whether it's PCR or rapid antigen. So even if someone did take a test shortly before crossing back into Canada, the 72-hour window means an infection incurred on someone's last or only day in the United States might not be detected.

Doug Ritchie of Tilbury, Ont., just outside Windsor, told CBC News he had no choice but to open his wallet as he's been waiting to cross to pick up boat and car parts he ordered online and shipped to a U.S. address more than a year ago. He took his test at a Canadian pharmacy before leaving, which came back negative after a cost all told of $330.

"It's just totally ridiculous," he said.

For others, love conquers all. As with the loosening of Canadian border restrictions in August, it is providing an opportunity for friends, couples and relatives to reunite.

In New Brunswick, Woodstock Mayor Arthur Slipp said both the border requirements and COVID-19 safety concerns will likely deter back-and-forth travel from daytrippers returning to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, although he expects snowbirds will flock to the border.

Slipp said Black Friday sales around American Thanksgiving in Bangor, Maine, later this month could provide a better sense of whether the pandemic has led to a serious change in habits.

"I think it's going to take a bit of time for people to become comfortable with the protocols that they're going to have to deal with," he said.

For more information on what you should know if you're considering entering the U.S. now that changes are in effect, click here.

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World roundup: COVID-19 developments in Germany, Russia, Japan

Russians went back to work on Monday after a nine-day hiatus ordered by the authorities to tame a record-breaking surge of coronavirus infections and deaths.

"Too early to draw a conclusion. It will be clear in about a week," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia's coronavirus task force reported 39,400 new infections and 1,190 deaths on Monday — numbers only slightly lower than the record 41,335 new cases registered on Saturday and the record 1,195 deaths reported on Thursday.

Russia has the worst death toll in Europe by far, and is one of the top five hardest-hit countries in the world. The task force has been reporting around 40,000 new cases and more than 1,100 new deaths each day since late October.

Germany's coronavirus infection rate has risen to its highest level since the start of the pandemic, public health figures showed on Monday, and doctors warned they will need to postpone scheduled operations in coming weeks to cope.

The seven-day incidence rate — the number of people per 100,000 to be infected over the last week — rose to 201.1, higher than a previous record of 197.6 in December last year. The number of deaths increased by 33 to a total of 96,558.

Christian Karagiannidis, scientific director at the DIVI association for intensive and emergency medicine, said an expected rise in coronavirus cases in coming weeks meant some scheduled operations would have to be postponed, "though definitely not with surgical cancer treatments," he told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper. Germany has already had to relocate some patients from regions with overburdened hospitals.

Japan has reported no daily deaths from COVID-19 for the first time in 15 months, as infections decline rapidly.

Experts attribute the decline from a significant caseload in the early summer to vaccination progress, mask wearing and other anti-virus measures. Vaccinations have accelerated, with now nearly 74 per cent of the population fully immunized.

Japan on Monday eased entry restrictions for foreign students, workers and short-term business travellers who are fully vaccinated and observe 10 days of self-isolation.

The European Union's medicines agency on Monday began reviewing Merck's COVID-19 treatment pill so that it can swiftly advise national drug authorities in the 27-country bloc that want to begin using it before it gets official approval.

The European Medicines Agency said in a statement that it will give "EU-wide recommendations in the shortest possible time frame to help national authorities decide on possible early use of the medicine, for example, in emergency use settings."

In the United Kingdom, the pill was approved for adults 18 and older who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have at least one risk factor for developing severe disease, such as obesity or heart disease. Patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 would take four pills of the drug twice a day for five days.

Britain will start to roll out Merck's molnupiravir COVID-19 antiviral pill through a drug trial later this month, Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the U.K. Health Security Agency, told the BBC on Sunday. Hopkins said all the trials so far had been done with the unvaccinated, so the trial would help understand how it will work in the wider vaccinated population.

Meanwhile, Britain reported 32,322 new cases of COVID-19, government data showed on Monday, meaning cases reported between Nov. 2 and Nov. 8 were down by 16.6 per cent compared with the previous seven days.

COVID-19 spreads through the air. Here's what you can do about it this winter

Almost two years into the pandemic, our understanding of the airborne spread of the coronavirus has changed dramatically, with more infectious variants increasing risk and physical distancing alone not proven to be sufficient — especially indoors.

The virus can be transmitted through the air in two key ways: microscopic airborne particles called aerosols that linger in the air like smoke, or larger respiratory droplets that fall to the ground quickly (prompting the original two-metre physical-distancing guidelines).

Canada's public health guidance has struggled to keep up with the evolving science, leading to contradictory advice, such as PHAC's recommendation that physical distancing is the "best way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19."

Other countries go far beyond Canada's guidance: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says N95s can be worn by the general public, and Britain recently launched an awareness campaign on preventing airborne transmission indoors.

Canada quietly updated its guidelines on the risk of airborne spread a year ago, adding the word "aerosols" for the first time, but it has stopped short of recommending medical masks for the general public or creating a similar campaign specifically around airborne spread.

Toronto respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta says once we realized aerosol transmission was a primary driver of the spread of the virus through the air, public health guidelines for Canadians should have followed suit.

"You can be very far away from the infection source, but if you're in there for long enough, you will catch it through aerosols," he said. "And that changes the game in terms of how we control spread."

Experts say layering different levels of protection on top of each other, also known as the Swiss cheese model, can further prevent the spread of COVID-19 as colder weather pushes us more toward indoor activities in the coming weeks and months.

"None of them by itself is 100 per cent effective," said Linsey Marr, an expert on virus transmission at Virginia Tech. "But when you combine them, you can reduce the risk by a lot."

Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, says the use of proper masks, ventilation and filtration — combined with high vaccination rates and vaccine passports for indoor spaces — will help to keep transmission levels low and take care of the "lion's share of the risk."

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