Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Oct. 25

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for October 25th.
People walk through the Shimbashi area of Tokyo on Monday night. With Tokyo and its surrounding area seeing a significant drop in coronavirus infection rates, the city government lifted all remaining restrictions that had been imposed on bars and restaurants, effective Monday. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)

Ontario, B.C. business owners cautiously optimistic about lifting of capacity restrictions

Capacity limits for several businesses lapsed on Monday in two provinces encompassing about half of Canada's population.

The mood for owners was generally one of cautious optimism, although the impact of the change remains to be seen.

Ontario was lifting capacity limits at restaurants, gyms, casinos and some other locations where proof of vaccination against COVID-19 is required. George Bozikis, co-owner of Hendriks Restaurant and Bar in downtown Toronto, told CBC News that it has been difficult to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, although having no capacity limits is an improvement.

But it still may not be business as usual, he added.

"Just because we're able to open a bigger part of the restaurant doesn't mean we're going to fill a bigger part of the restaurant again. Office towers are operating at 10 to 15 per cent. Theatres in this area are closed. Tourism is non-existent. Offices are slowly coming back, but definitely not quick enough," Bozikis told CBC Toronto.

Friday's announcement about the lifting of capacity limits for recreational facilities was unexpected, said Jennifer McChesney, director of operations at Studio Lagree and Studio Spin in Toronto, "just because it felt like that day would never come and we were just adjusting to our new normal."

In Kitchener, Elvis Ellison, chef-owner at Ellison's Restaurant, said he was "going to just take steps" and not overreact to the change by ordering too much food, then having to throw it away.

Matt Rolleman, owner-operator of 13 Food and Beverage in downtown Galt, Ont., also isn't sure how keen diners will be to brush shoulders with other people again. He may increase capacity in one part of the restaurant at first, while leaving more space between tables in another section.

"I think we are going to try to meet somewhere in the middle," he said.

Dr. Suzy Hota, infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network and the University of Toronto, told CBC News Network that it will be important for Ontario to be nimble and course-correct if necessary, avoiding the situation in other jurisdictions where case trends have led to a buckling of the health-care system.

"Is there a magical time when this would feel more comfortable for everybody? It's hard to say," she said. "You just have to have a plan to be continuously monitoring how it's going as we start to reopen, and do it gradually."

In British Columbia, residents in large swathes of the province will be allowed to attend events like hockey games, concerts and weddings without any limits on numbers, but capacity will be capped at 50 per cent in areas where vaccination rates are low, including parts of the Fraser, Northern and Interior health regions.

Hota said while that approach is "nuanced" and can help motivate the hesitant to get their shots, people can and will travel between regions.

Harpal Sooch, owner of the Grand Taj Banquet Hall in Surrey, said although he doesn't foresee a return to anything like pre-pandemic conditions until his traditional busy season in spring and summer, he's cautiously optimistic about an uptick in business, with a couple events to take place over the next few weeks

"This is my bread and butter for me and my family," said Sooch.

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Why 'waning immunity' from COVID-19 vaccines isn't as bad as it sounds

Reports of waning immunity may sound concerning, but an initial decrease in antibody levels may also be necessary in the fight against COVID-19, as it helps fine-tune the immune system's plan of attack.

"I don't even like the term," said University of Toronto immunologist Jennifer Gommerman. "And the reason I don't like the term is that it implies that the immune response in its entirety is declining."

It's "entirely normal" for antibody levels to drop initially after vaccination and your immune response to the virus to become "contracted" over time, she said. But your body is also creating "highly efficient" memory B cells to fight off COVID-19 long term.

B cells work quickly to generate large quantities of antibodies in the weeks after vaccination, but they typically produce more effective antibodies as time goes on, helping sharpen the long-term response to a virus.

A new study published in the journal Science found "robust cellular immune memory" from B cells for at least six months after mRNA vaccination against all circulating strains of the virus — even the highly contagious delta variant. The researchers found those memory cells, unlike the initial wave of antibodies, continue to learn how to fend off the virus months after vaccination and are actually getting better at it over time.

Gommerman pointed out another important distinction, between infection and disease.

"We expect people to get infected — even healthy people to get infected — as antibody levels decline, because the only thing that can protect you against a breakthrough infection are antibodies," she said. "But we have to think about who we're looking at, and what underlying comorbidities might be there in people who experienced breakthrough disease."

With Canada's provincial vaccination rates robust ahead of a possible authorization of vaccines for children aged five to 11, a higher percentage of cases will be comprised of the fully vaccinated, said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor at the University of Alberta.

"So that very rare outcome becomes the majority of the outcomes, and seeing an increasing number of cases in vaccinated people over time doesn't actually mean that the vaccine works less well, necessarily."

But the layer of protection through vaccination is borne out in the numbers. A total of 520 fully vaccinated Canadians have died of COVID-19 in the nearly 10 months since our vaccine rollout started, compared with 8,520 who were not considered fully vaccinated during that same time period. Furthermore, according to incident tracking by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the unvaccinated are 25 times more at risk of hospitalizion than the vaccinated.

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With COVID-19 deaths climbing and hospitals strained, Russia rolls out restrictions

Russia marked an all-time high of 37,930 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, along with 1,069 additional deaths, according to the country's coronavirus task force.

Moscow officials say since September, cases in Russia's capital have risen by 30 per cent each week and are hovering around 8,000 a day — a trajectory that Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has acknowledged is a "worst-case scenario."

With more than 1,000 people dying of COVID-19 every day for the past 10 days and with vaccination rates lagging, Russia has declared a non-working week from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7.

"There is a real war in the red zone in hospitals throughout the country," Dr. Denis Protsenko, the country's chief coronavirus doctor, wrote on his Telegram social media account.

As of Monday, Moscow is ordering anyone over the age of 60 to stay home until Feb. 25 if they haven't been vaccinated or previously infected with COVID-19 during the past six months. They will be allowed to be out for walks and exercise.

Alexander Lobanov, who is turning 60 on Nov. 1, spoke to CBC as he was riding his bike around Moscow. He is unvaccinated, but is resigned to the fact that he may have to get it.

"I feel like I have no choice now," he said.

While officials in Russia have been hesitant to institute restrictions, the climbing cases and deaths are taking a toll on hospitals and medical staff. In the Siberian town of Biysk, 3,000 kilometres southeast of Moscow, there are reports that some hospital staff are having to work 72 hours straight in order to keep up with the number of COVID-19 patients being admitted. The town also had to build an additional morgue.

In Biysk, like elsewhere in Russia, vaccination rates are low. Across the country, slightly more than 40 per cent of adults have had two doses of a vaccine, according to Gogov, which tallies statistics from across Russia.

In addition, eligibility for the Sputnik V vaccine is at this point only for those 18 and over.

Among the uninoculated adults, CBC News found a mix of those who were vaccine skeptics in general and those who were distrustful of a jab produced by the government's Health Ministry.

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