February 20, 2022

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for June 24 | CBC News

  • Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
  • Hundreds have been hired in recent months by Canada’s Public Health Agency in order to shore up pandemic surveillance, intelligence: sources
  • Newly-revealed New Brunswick COVID-19 inspections drew a range of responses from the affected employers.
  • Vaccine lotteries get a lot of press, but their effectiveness in driving uptake seems questionable.
  • Explore: Daylong Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border disruption due to a protest over COVID-19 restrictions has ended with arrests but no major incidents; tips on how to keep unvaccinated kids safe during the summer.

A women carries the Olympic flame during the Tokyo Olympic torch relay on Thursday in Numazu, Japan. As the Olympic torch relay makes its way around Japan, much of the original route has been altered or cancelled completely as prefectural authorities act to avoid large gatherings and combat the potential spread of COVID-19. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)

Ontario moves to Step 2 in reopening as incoming health official expresses cautious optimism

Ontario announced Thursday it will be moving into the next step of its reopening plan.

The province will proceed into Step 2 on June 30, two days before it was originally slated to do so. CBC News first reported the likelihood of the revised date on Wednesday.

As part of the criteria for moving to Step 2, the province had set vaccination targets of 70 per cent for adults with one dose and 20 per cent fully immunized. Those two measures are now at more than 76 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively — also above the thresholds for Step 3, the final phase.

Step 2 further loosens public health restrictions, with indoor, masked social gatherings of up to five people allowed. Similarly, up to 25 people would be able to attend outdoor functions, while as many as six people could dine together on a patio.

Personal care services like hair stylists and nail salons would also reopen, as long as masks are worn at all times. Capacity limits on essential retail will move to 50 per cent, up from 25 per cent in Step 1, while non-essential retail capacity increases to 25 per cent, as opposed to 15 per cent.

Ontario will likely stay in Step 2 for 21 days as initially intended, the province said, to “allow the most recent vaccinations to reach their full effectiveness and to evaluate any impacts … on key public health and health care indicators.”

Caution was preached by incoming chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore, who takes over from Dr. David Williams, who is retiring Friday.

“We have a lot of work still to do to continue to respond to this pandemic,” Moore said.

“We have to really go slow and steady in the face of the delta strain becoming the dominant strain.”

That variant has led to a notable increase in cases recently in the Waterloo Region, which will not proceed to Step 2 just yet.

“This approach gives us the best chance to hold onto the gains we have made,” said Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, regional medical officer of health, in a statement.

But Ontario is planning for the COVID-19 pandemic to become an endemic by autumn if the progress in vaccinations and treatment of the hospitalized can be sustained, Moore said.

Thursday’s briefing with Moore and Williams took place as Ontario reported 296 new cases of COVID-19, marking the fourth straight day with fewer than 300 infections. The case count is down from last Thursday, when the province saw 370.

The provincial government said that as of Wednesday, there were 305 people with COVID-related illnesses in intensive care units, including 10 Manitobans transferred to Ontario hospitals. That’s down from more than 450 about two weeks ago.

From The National

A COVID-19 outbreak that has spread throughout Yukon can be traced back to one person who attended a party full of people. The territory now has the highest infection rate in Canada, despite also having the highest vaccination rate. 1:59

IN BRIEF

Public Health Agency launches intelligence team to prepare for future pandemics

The Public Health Agency of Canada has quietly reorganized its internal divisions and assembled a security and intelligence section tasked with providing better, faster warnings of future pandemics, CBC News has learned.

As many as 1,000 staff members from all backgrounds and disciplines have been hired at Health Canada since the pandemic began to shore up surveillance and response, a source told CBC’s Murray Brewster. CBC News is not identifying the confidential sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The creation of the intelligence division comes in response to pointed criticism of PHAC’s early pandemic response in 2020.

Auditor General Karen Hogan released a blistering report on the Liberal government’s handling of the Global Pandemic Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), a multilingual monitoring system that scours the internet for reports of infectious diseases.

The health agency was criticized for not paying close enough attention to health intelligence warnings coming from other government agencies, including the military’s medical intelligence branch. The report also took the health agency to task for changes that limited GPHIN’s ability to issue crucial pandemic alerts to clients, including provincial governments and international health agencies.

Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor and one the country’s leading intelligence experts, said he’s encouraged to see PHAC move to create a more robust intelligence-gathering system.

“It’s a breakthrough,” he said. “It’s a recognition, which has been slow to come from PHAC, that they have to do things differently in the future. There was a lot of defensiveness around the auditor general’s report.”

Wark said the agency still has to staff the division with talent and build bridges with the rest of the intelligence and security community in Canada and elsewhere.

The United Kingdom, as host of the recent G7 summit, made preventing another global catastrophe one of the meetup’s key themes. The World Health Organization is also pushing for countries to co-operate more closely and is calling for a global pandemic preparedness treaty.

Read for more details

N.B. health officials found COVID-related issues at poultry plant, 2 long-term care homes

CBC News in New Brunswick has obtained records through access to information requests regarding three inspections that have occurred in the province during the pandemic.

The inspections were undertaken at special care facilities in Atholville and Edmunston, as well as the Nadeau poultry plant in the municipality of Haut-Madawaska, about 40 kilometres outside Edmundston. Two were prompted by public service officials tracking the pandemic, while the other came from an anonymous public complaint.

At the poultry plant, 23 employees ultimately tested positive, according to the company, and the plant was closed from Jan. 18 to Jan. 28. An inspection report from Jan. 22 raised concerns that employees weren’t using the correct doors to exit and enter. The business followed an order to post signage to make that clearer so employees wouldn’t meet when coming and going.

Yves Landry, general manager of the Nadeau poultry plant, told CBC News he didn’t think any issues with the layout played a role in the outbreak, believing transmission in the “local, tight-knit community” more likely.

Guy Tremblay, president and CEO of the Lokia Group, which owns the Atholville care facility, felt unfairly targeted by the whole process.

“We try to find guilty people a year after when everybody [was] not prepared about [the] pandemic in New Brunswick at that time,” Tremblay said.

But an inspector also found there was no joint health and safety committee, something that was required because the home had more than 20 employees, even as recently as January 2021.

That was months after an outbreak in which 23 people, including seven employees, contracted the virus, and two residents lost their lives.

Read more about the inspections

Some U.S. states find effect of vaccine incentives muted after initial rush

Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement of a lottery as a vaccine incentive program had the desired effect in the short term, leading to a 43 per cent boost in state vaccination numbers over the previous week. But numbers of vaccinations have dropped since then.

“Clearly the impact went down after that second week,” DeWine acknowledged Wednesday.

While the incentive’s success was short-lived, DeWine said it convinced Ohioans who were either straddling the line or who had no plans to get the shot to get vaccinated.

As evidence, Jonathan Carlyle of Toledo, an Amazon delivery person who won the second $1 million prize on June 2, said the next day: “When y’all announced the Vax-a-Million, as soon as I heard that, I was like ‘Yes, I need to go do this now.’ “

Multiple other states followed Ohio’s lead in incentivizing vaccination, including Louisiana, Maryland and New York state, but the impact in those jurisdictions is hard to pin down. Oregon and Colorado are among the states that have yet to draw winners of prizes.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said California saw a 22 per cent increase in the week prior to the awarding of the grand prizes, but the Sacramento Bee, which operates in the state capital, questioned the claim. The newspaper reported that the figure may have been skewed both by a comparison to a week that included Memorial Day weekend, as well as the opening of vaccine eligibility to adolescents.

In Canada, Alberta and Manitoba offered cash prizes as vaccine incentives, while Manitoba also offered scholarships to kids aged 12 to 17 who get two shots. It won’t be clear for awhile, if ever, whether there was any substantial impact on uptake.

Saskatchewan’s opposition NDP urged the provincial government to offer similar incentives as Saskatchewan skidded downward on the per capita vaccination rankings of Canadian provinces.

Read more about vaccine lotteries 

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

AND FINALLY…

As pandemic restrictions ease, Montreal comes alive for Habs’ improbable playoff run 

There will be 3,500 people in the seats at Bell Centre in Montreal on Thursday night and likely many more thousands in the streets should the Montreal Canadiens emerge victorious in their playoff matchup with the Las Vegas Golden Knights. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Montreal is in the mood for a party on Thursday night and into the weekend, with officials saying they hoped it would proceed enthusiastically but safely.

The Canadiens are on the verge of another playoff upset as they play Game 6 at the Bell Centre, with a victory there or in Game 7 against Las Vegas sending the franchise to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since their nailbiting, overtime-laden 1993 championship.

The club headed into the playoffs on a five-game losing skid and then lost three of four in a rare — in terms of recent years — postseason matchup with Toronto. But beginning with their comeback against the Leafs, the team’s momentum has propelled them to new heights.

Game 6 coincides with the Quebec’s Fête nationale, celebrated every year on June 24, and while the franchise is filled with championship history, big games were never played this late in the year in pre-pandemic times. It’s also the first day of summer holidays for many school-aged children, as well as a full moon.

With COVID-19 cases down and vaccination rates on the rise, Quebec Premier François Legault has, in recent weeks, lifted many of the restrictions that limited getting together to watch games. Bar closing hours were pushed back to accommodate late game starts in Las Vegas, and the capacity at the Bell Centre was increased to 3,500.

Retail activity has also picked up. Santana Enrique, the manager of a sports store in downtown Montreal, said sales of flags, t-shirts and jerseys are brisk, with fans especially looking for jerseys of the team’s young stars like Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki.

“We are covering a lot of what we lost in the previous months,” he said.

Fan Kristina Millett is still wary of wading into the crowds outside, so she plans to have a larger, but still safe number at her residence for game night.

“It just keeps building. I trusted we could get here and it feels very surreal,” she said.

Montreal has a regrettable history of vandalism after big playoff games, and Mayor Valérie Plante says police will have a heightened presence for game night. Plante urged people to respect public health measures still in place to avoid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Read more about the anticipation 

Find out more about COVID-19

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