March 2, 2022

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Dec. 6 | CBC News

  • Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
  • Vaccination mandates for hard-hit European countries may make sense, but Canadian case is harder to make.
  • After heralding vaccine production deals, federal government welcomes pact with Merck for antiviral drug.
  • World roundup: South Africa expects omicron-related hospital strain, as new variant is detected in Argentina, Russia and on Norwegian Cruise Line trip.
  • Explore: Canadians born in South Africa say they had to take 6 COVID-19 tests before being allowed to get back to Manitoba home…. WHO says pandemic disruptions led to upsurge in malaria deaths in 2020…. LISTEN: CBC’s Day 6 spoke to filmmaker behind The First Wave, a documentary set inside a New York City hospital during the early weeks of the pandemic.

A paramedic takes notes on an intensive care helicopter beside a heart attack patient during a transfer from one hospital to another on Monday in Burg, Germany. Coronavirus infections in Germany have risen to record highs in recent weeks, leading to a strain on the country’s intensive care units and the transfer of some patients to facilities with capacity. (Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

Would national vaccine mandates work in Canada? Experts aren’t sure

A number of European countries are starting to implement, or contemplate, a vaccine mandate for their citizens in the wake of a punishing fourth wave on the continent.

Mandates have been issued by Canada’s federal government and some provincial ones with respect to specific types of workers or customers. All passengers travelling on planes and trains must be fully vaccinated, as must the staff working in those sectors, for example.

But experts who spoke to CBC News said there would be significant challenges to imposing a national mandatory vaccination program for all Canadians.

The first is the age-old jurisdictional battle between the federal government and the provinces. While the federal government would have invoke the Emergencies Act to do so, and possibly fend off a court challenge, “all hell would break loose from the provinces,” says Michael Behiels, a constitutional law expert at the University of Ottawa.

Dr. Allison McGeer from Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, and other infectious disease physicians, such as Dr. Isaac Bogoch of the University of Toronto and Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., all agree that the goal some European states are pursuing is a worthy one. But they also agree that imposing mandatory vaccination regimes across the population might cause an uproar, stress the goodwill between Canadians and their government and, in the end, not deliver the desired results.

“We’re not back to normal, but we’re getting there — and there’s no guarantee that we’ll be right back to normal even if everybody is vaccinated because there are breakthrough infections,” said McGeer.

Canada, with nearly 80 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated, is far ahead of the pace in countries that are contemplating the mandates, such as Austria, Germany, Greece and Slovakia.

As well, there is not one overriding reason the holdouts remain unvaccinated. Bogoch says the best way to increase vaccination rates is to understand why each group won’t get vaccinated and then try to meet them on their ground: If they can’t get to a vaccination clinic because they are too busy, use mobile clinics, he says. If they still have lingering questions, sit them down with health professionals and try to answer their questions.

From The National

Patients, doctors call for action on surgical backlog

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a major surgical backlog. Now, doctors and patients are calling for governments to take the necessary steps to clear it. 2:04

IN BRIEF

Merck plans to manufacture COVID-19 antiviral drug in Ontario

Merck Canada announced Monday it plans to manufacture its oral antiviral COVID-19 drug in Canada, making the country a global hub for the production of the potentially game-changing treatment.

The drug company has invested $19 million to scale up production of its antiviral drug, molnupiravir, at Thermo Fisher Scientific’s facility in Whitby, Ont., east of Toronto.

The drug — one of the first treatments for non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients — is currently pending Health Canada approval. The antiviral works by blocking the enzyme essential for viral replication.

In an updated news release issued on Nov. 26, Merck reported that its pill reduced the rate of hospitalization by 30 per cent, compared to those who got a placebo pill. While that was down from a 50 per cent rate it had trumpeted in a mid-trial press release, the pill nevertheless got the green light last week with some reservations from a panel that advises the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi announced Canada had signed a deal to purchase 500,000 courses of the oral antiviral drug, with the option to purchase another 500,000 if Health Canada gives it the green light.

It’s unclear how much uptake there will be domestically. The pill has only been rigorously tested on unvaccinated individuals — a shrinking percentage of Canadians. As well, the pill is to be first administered within five days of symptoms, a benchmark that may not be met for some whose virus indicators may not manifest that quickly.

Nevertheless, it’s another in a string of recent announcements that should bring jobs and medtech capacity to Canada, including in Montreal and Mississauga, Ont. Canada’s capacity to produce pharmaceuticals has been in decline since the 1980s, leaving the country unable to create its own supply of much-needed COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Merck Canada has invested $19 million to scale up production of its antiviral drug at Thermo Fisher Scientific’s facility, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said.

“We didn’t choose the timing of this pandemic. We won’t choose when the next one happens. But we can choose and we are choosing as Canadians to be ready for whatever may come next,” he said.

World roundup: South Africa expects rise in hospitalizations, omicron detected for 1st time in Argentina, Russia

In Africa, South Africa is preparing its hospitals for more admissions, as the omicron variant pushes the country into a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.

Ramaphosa said in a weekly newsletter that omicron appeared to be dominating new infections in most provinces and urged more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We will soon be convening a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council to review the state of the pandemic. This will enable us to take whatever further measures are needed to keep people safe and healthy.”

Cases mushroomed to more than 16,000 by the end of last week, with Guateng province particularly. Monday’s case numbers were well above 6,300, although as with other jurisdictions there can be a delay in reporting all weekend activity.

At least 17 COVID-19 cases, including a probable case of the omicron variant, have been detected among passengers and crew on a cruise ship that disembarked in New Orleans over the weekend, Louisiana health officials said.

The Norwegian Breakaway, operated by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and carrying more than 3,200 individuals, departed New Orleans on Nov. 28 and made stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico before returning to the Louisiana port on Sunday.

The probable omicron case was identified in a crew member who is not a Louisiana resident and has not left the ship, health officials said.

Officials said all passengers were being tested for COVID-19 before leaving the ship, and those who tested positive would either travel to their residence in a personal vehicle or self-isolate in accommodations provided by the cruise company.

Cruise ships often served as incubators of the coronavirus during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Now, all major cruise operators departing from U.S. ports, including Norwegian Cruise Lines, require guests and crew to be fully vaccinated. Passengers are required to have received the final dose of an authorized COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days before the beginning of the cruise.

Norwegian also requires all guests to take a COVID-19 antigen test prior to boarding. The company said all of the positive cases on the cruise ship that docked on Sunday were asymptomatic.

Despite the strict safety protocols implemented by cruise ships, ensuring passengers end their trips infection-free has proven difficult.

From June 26 to Oct. 21, there were 1,359 confirmed coronavirus cases reported to the CDC by cruise ships, including several large outbreaks.

In Argentina, the first case of the omicron variant has been detected.

The country’s Health Ministry said the case involves a resident of the western Argentine province of San Luis who arrived on Nov. 30 from South Africa on a flight via the United States.

Argentina joined Brazil, Mexico and Chile on the list of Latin American countries where cases of the new variant have been detected.

Meanwhile, Argentina has approved Russia’s one-dose Sputnik Light as a standalone vaccine and a booster shot, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said on Monday, citing Argentina’s Health Ministry.

Argentina was one of the first countries to widely use Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, but delays in deliveries led the country in August to offer second doses of Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines to citizens who received a first dose of Russia’s Sputnik V.

In Russia, officials also confirmed the presence of omicron for the first time. The Russian public health watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said a total of 10 people who returned from South Africa recently tested positive for COVID-19, but the new variant has only been confirmed in two cases so far.

Today’s graphic:

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