The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for June 29

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak from CBC News for Monday, June 29.


A voter wearing a face mask and gloves casts his ballot in Moscow. Russia is voting on a constitutional reform that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036. (Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press)

Potential COVID-19 vaccine has re-energized anti-vaccination groups, health experts warn

As Canadians yearn for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are pinning their hopes on unprecedented global efforts to develop a vaccine against the virus. But even though most infectious disease experts say the earliest possible timeframe would be at least a year or two away, anti-vaccination groups are already well into online and social media campaigns stoking doubts about the safety — and even questioning the necessity — of a coronavirus vaccine, writes CBC's Nicole Ireland.

"I just am astonished at how early the anti-vaccine narrative has started," Dr. Natasha Crowcroft, a vaccine expert at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said in an interview with CBC's The Dose health podcast. "Unless our public health leaders can generate a lot of trust, it's going to be very, very difficult." That's because anti-vaccination groups have become extremely savvy communicators and "seem to be much better" than public health experts at reaching out to a variety of people with different ideologies — from those who distrust pharmaceutical companies to those protesting public health lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, Crowcroft told podcast host Dr. Brian Goldman.

Anti-vaccination groups in Canada and the U.S. are positioning themselves as advocates for what they call "personal freedoms" and "medical choice" in the midst of the pandemic — posting content online and on social media that not only targets vaccination, but also protests the closure of businesses, physical distancing requirements and the wearing of masks. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic and an unprecedented effort to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible, many people have questions and anxiety about the process, said Jonathan Jarry, a science communicator in the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal, which has a mandate to debunk misinformation for the public. At the same time, he said, the anti-vaccination movement is "seemingly re-energized and ... pushing a lot of misinformation and disinformation and lies and fuelling that anxiety."

To combat that, both Crowcroft and Jarry agree, it's essential that public health officials, physicians and community leaders talk openly and transparently with Canadians about the vaccine development process and directly answer their questions and concerns — and they need to start now. One of the key concerns that needs to be directly addressed is how a coronavirus vaccine can be developed more quickly than any vaccine before it and still be safe, Jarry said. The answer, Crowcroft said, is that "the current situation is so different that it is possible to get through the development steps faster without cutting any corners that might compromise safety." "Governments are helping to speed things up by funding the trials so they can go on in parallel and/or the gaps between each step are shorter, without the long delays for decision-making about whether the company wants to take the [financial] risk of moving forward," said Crowcroft, who was recently appointed a senior technical adviser for the World Health Organization's measles, mumps and rubella program.

It's up to each country's regulatory agency, such as Health Canada, to determine whether a vaccine can be used and be independent of any industry influence. "Safety cannot be compromised," Crowcroft said. "Health Canada will see to that. It is their statutory responsibility." In an emailed statement to CBC, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said that before any vaccine is approved for use in this country, "Health Canada conducts rigorous scientific reviews and testing of the vaccine to assess the quality, safety and effectiveness." But if these kinds of questions about safety, as well as other concerns, aren't dealt with directly by public health officials — or if the public doesn't trust them — anti-vaccination voices will fill that void with misinformation, Jarry said. The most effective way to talk to people who are vaccine-hesitant, he said, "all boils down to empathy and to listening and to building trust."

Click below to watch more from The National

This weekend, the world passed 10 million recorded cases of COVID-19, but while many hard-hit countries are showing clear progress in getting the virus under control, the U.S. is seeing massive spikes in new infections. 3:20


COVID-19 transmission 'largely under control' but relapses possible, says Tam

Canada's chief public health officer said transmission of the novel coronavirus is largely under control in the country, but warned that the caseload can flare up at any time. "The novel coronavirus has not been eliminated and we do not have an effective vaccine at this time. So as restrictive public health measures are being lifted to minimize the unintended health, social and economic consequences we expect to see some resurgence of cases," Dr. Theresa Tam told an updated modelling briefing Monday.

The number of daily cases is steadily declining, along with the number of hospitalized and critical care cases, Tam said. She warned, however, that lifting pandemic measures too soon without a proper system of contact tracing and isolation likely would lead to relapses. "The key is to keep the number of cases small," she said. After months of strict travel rules and widespread business shutdowns, more provinces are easing restrictions. Later this week, the four Atlantic provinces will open their borders to each other, meaning residents in those areas can travel without having to self-isolate for 14 days. But efforts to reopen have experienced setbacks in multiple provinces. The updated Public Health Agency of Canada figures show that some areas have been more heavily affected by COVID-19 than others — specifically Quebec and Ontario — and identified some recent regional hotspots, including parts of Saskatchewan, the cities of Toronto and Montreal and around the border town of Windsor, Ont.

Of Ontario's 257 confirmed new cases of COVID-19, reported today, 177 are from the Windsor-Essex area. The provincial caseload grew sharply following targeted testing of migrant farm workers over the weekend. Tam touched on the issue of migrant farm workers during her briefing with colleague Dr. Howard Njoo today. She said the pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in crowded settings such as long-term care homes, meat plants and the congregate housing facilities where many agricultural workers live while in Canada. And British Columbia, which has moved into Phase 3 of its reopening plan, is seeing a sustained rise in cases for the first time in months, with hospitalizations at their highest point since June 7 and the five-day rolling average of new cases the highest since May 17. While interprovincial borders continue to open up, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government continues to monitor the COVID-19 count in the United States, which has reported more than 2.5 million cases and more than 125,000 deaths.

Read more about what's happening in Canada

Trudeau says only WE Charity can administer student grant program as Conservatives call for investigation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the WE Charity is the only organization capable of administering more than $900 million in grants for students this summer, as the federal Conservatives call for an investigation into the decision. Trudeau said federal public servants identified WE as the organization with the best countrywide network for connecting young people to paid volunteer positions this summer. WE will administer the Canada student service grant, which will provide eligible students with up to $5,000 to support the costs of post-secondary education in the fall. The amount of each grant will depend on the amount of time the recipient devotes to volunteer work.

The federal Liberal government has been criticized for allocating such a large sum of money to a third party that has ties to Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. Grégoire Trudeau hosts a podcast for WE and has appeared at a number of their youth-oriented events. In a letter to Auditor General Karen Hogan, the federal Conservatives argue that "outsourcing" the Canada Student Service Grant to WE Charity undermines Parliament's ability to monitor the aid program. "The proper channels for Opposition scrutiny, the very bedrock of our parliamentary democracy, have been circumvented," reads the letter signed by Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre, Dan Albas and Raquel Dancho.

Trudeau said the federal government has worked with a number of charities during the pandemic — it has given money to the United Way to fund grassroots organizations, he said, and also to Food Banks Canada — and there is nothing wrong with this new partnership with WE. He said thousands of young people want to "step up and engage in their communities" and the grants will help them to do that. Trudeau said it was the Department of Employment and Social Development that recommended tasking WE with doling out the grants. The international charity, formerly known as Free the Children, was started by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger in 1995. "When our public servants looked at the potential partners, only the WE organization had the capacity to deliver the ambitious program that young people need for for the summer," Trudeau said.

Read more about the situation

Alberta to spend billions on infrastructure, cut corporate taxes as part of recovery plan

Alberta will spend billions on infrastructure projects, cut its corporate tax rate, establish a new investment agency and introduce a series of targeted incentives for industry as part of a plan to restart its battered economy. Premier Jason Kenney said his government would spend $10 billion on projects that will immediately create jobs, including health-care facilities, pipelines, schools, drug treatment centres and more. He said the government anticipates the creation of 50,000 jobs directly tied to the projects across the province.

The province has been battered by oil price wars and the COVID-19 pandemic and has seen its deficit balloon from a projected $7 billion to $20 billion this year. Its most recent budget was based on oil fetching $58 US per barrel, a forecast critics called rosy at the time, and was rushed through the legislature as a battle between Saudi Arabia and Russia cratered the price and the global pandemic settled on Alberta. Economists are predicting a severe recession in the once-booming province and even Kenney has warned of "a great fiscal reckoning" to come in a province that has tied its fortunes to the swings of its main commodity. Calgary has been particularly hard hit over the past few years by an oil price downturn that refuses to rebound. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said the city will require particular aid from the province and the federal government in order to ride out its current storm.

In addition to the spending announced today, Kenney also said his government would speed up the implementation of corporate tax cuts, slashing the rate to eight per cent from 10 per cent starting on July 1. The plan will offer incentives for the tech sector to employ workers and will funnel $175 million into the Alberta Enterprise Corporation to provide venture capital to startups. As well, a new agency, Investment Alberta, will set up international offices and pitch Alberta to potential investors. Sector-specific initiatives to spur diversification will be unveiled in the coming days and weeks. Kenney said the moves represent a "plan for a generation of growth" and that if the government does not act quickly, the "fiscal challenges will become insurmountable." "Our future is truly at stake," he said.

Read more about Alberta's plan


China approves COVID-19 vaccine candidate for military use, skips final phase of testing

China's military received the green light to use a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by its research unit and CanSino Biologics after clinical trials proved it was safe and showed some efficacy, the company said on Monday. The Ad5-nCoV is one of China's eight vaccine candidates approved for human trials at home and abroad for the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The shot also won approval for human testing in Canada.

China's Central Military Commission approved the use of the vaccine by the military on June 25 for a period of one year, CanSino said in a filing. The vaccine candidate was developed jointly by CanSino and a research institute at the Academy of Military Science. CanSino declined to disclose whether the inoculation of the vaccine candidate is mandatory or optional, citing commercial secrets, in an email to Reuters. The Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials of CanSino's vaccine candidate showed it has the potential to prevent diseases caused by the coronavirus, but its commercial success cannot be guaranteed, the company said. Phase 3, which tests a vaccine's efficacy and safety on many thousands of people, is still to be completed. This step is usually considered the most important for widespread approval, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No vaccine has yet been approved for commercial use against COVID-19, but more than a dozen vaccines from more than 100 candidates globally are being tested in humans. People on six continents already are getting jabs in the arm as the race for a vaccine enters a defining summer, with even bigger studies poised to prove if any shot really works — and maybe offer a reality check. Vaccine experts, meanwhile, say it's time to set public expectations. Many scientists don't expect a coronavirus vaccine to be nearly as protective as the measles shot. If the best COVID-19 vaccine is only 50 per cent effective, "that's still to me a great vaccine," said Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania. "We need to start having this conversation now," so people won't be surprised, he said.


Nova Scotia businesses deliver thousands of sandwiches to those in need during the pandemic

Give Us Your Lunch Money was an initiative that made and delivered 5,000 sandwiches and 7,000 sweets to organizations that feed the hungry in Nova Scotia during the pandemic. (Give Us Your Lunch Money/Facebook)

It started with a simple idea: use leftover lunch money to help people in need during the pandemic. Three months later, a bakery in Chester, N.S., has delivered thousands of sandwiches and sweets to food banks and service organizations while at the same time providing work for staff and supporting local producers. It's the good kind of community spread, said Laura Mulrooney, the owner of Julien's Bakery and one of the people behind Give Us Your Lunch Money, an initiative that raised more than $20,000.

Her bakery, along with The Other Bean in Halifax and Chester's Cafe in Chester, made and delivered 5,000 sandwiches and 7,000 sweets to organizations that feed the hungry from Halifax to Bridgewater. The idea started when Mulrooney's brother gave her spare change he would have spent on parking and lunch, but no longer needed since he was working from home. Mulrooney decided to ask her customers to pitch in as well. "People were very generous," she said. "Some people gave us $1,000 and some people gave us $10, and my favourites were people who just kept giving every week, $10, $20, $50. I called them serial donors and that really meant a lot to us."

In the process of helping others, Mulrooney said she also helped her small business and many others. She kept her staff employed and could still buy from local producers unable to sell at farmers markets because of the province's restrictions. While the project has wrapped up, Mulrooney said she's thankful for the relationships she's formed with non-profits. "They could definitely give us a shout and if there was a way we could help them out, we would," she said.

Read the full story about the initiative

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

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