The federal government will announce this afternoon the provision of military medical personnel to help Ontario’s beleaguered health-care system with a third wave of COVID-19.
A senior government official, granted anonymity to discuss matters not yet public, confirmed to The Canadian Press the military will help the struggling province.
The plan involves providing teams of nurses and medical technicians to hospitals and other facilities struggling to keep up with a spike of new infections.
Such teams were deployed into long-term care facilities in Ontario and Quebec last spring as the first wave of COVID-19 swept across the country.
Military aircraft are also being made available to fly medical professionals from other provinces to Ontario to help with the pandemic.
Today’s move follows a formal request for military and Canadian Red Cross assistance by the province.
“We have been working with the federal government to identify health human resources located across various federal agencies who might be suitable for deployment to assist with the critical care surge in Ontario,” said Stephen Warner, spokesman for Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, in a statement.
“At the conclusion of that process, we have made a request for the assistance of those identified resources, many of whom reside, for example, within the Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Red Cross organizations. In addition to health human resources, we are requesting logistical and operational support as we seek to augment our response to COVID-19.”
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc first announced last week that the military would fly medical personnel from other provinces and territories to Ontario, and that Ottawa would cover the transportation costs.
Leblanc said at the time that Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had indicated a willingness to help Canada’s most populous province.
Quebec to open COVID-19 vaccination appointments to people with disabilities on Tuesday
Quebec on Monday advanced the day disabled people can begin booking COVID-19 vaccine appointments and expanded a program in which private companies operate mass vaccination sites at their workplaces.
The Health Department said people with physical or intellectual disabilities, as well as those on the autism spectrum will be able to make appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations on Tuesday. The government had planned to expand access to that group on Wednesday, but said the vaccination rollout is moving faster than expected.
Health officials reported 889 new cases of COVID-19 – the lowest number since March 29 – along with eight more deaths attributed to the coronavirus, including one in the previous 24 hours. They said hospitalizations rose by 10, to 664, and 167 people were in intensive care, a rise of two.
Health Minister Christian Dube said Monday on Twitter despite a “certain stability” in the number of new cases reported daily, the rise in infections over the past few weeks is having an impact on hospitals.
“We must not think that the battle is won even though we’re going in the right direction,” he said.
Meanwhile, the government said it will expand a program in which large businesses turn their workplaces into mass vaccination sites. The program began Monday with the first shots administered at the Montreal headquarters of flight simulation company CAE.
Under the program, participating businesses will vaccinate their employees and their families, and eventually the general public. CAE, which had received 250 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, said Monday it has the capacity to vaccinate up to 1,000 people a day, seven days a week.
“We are enthusiastic about the idea of obtaining more doses quickly,” CAE spokeswoman Helene V. Gagnon said in an e-mail.
The Health Department said Monday morning it will add 10 more companies to the program, bringing the total number of participating businesses to 23, about a dozen of which are to begin vaccinations next week.
Quebec hopes to vaccinate more than 500,000 people at the corporate sites between May and August.
The Health Department said 41,731 doses of vaccine were administered on Sunday, for a total of 2,871,140. It said the province should receive 231,660 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 137,200 doses of Moderna this week.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Ontario Tories vote down private member’s bill that would have mandated paid sick leave
A private member’s bill that would have mandated paid sick leave failed in the Ontario legislature on Monday, with Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives voting it down 55 to 20.
Last week, Ford said that his government would be bringing in a sick-leave policy that would fill “gaps” in a federal benefit.
The vote followed an outpour of grief and anger following a report in The Globe that a 13-year-old girl died from COVID-19 at her home in Brampton, Ont., while her mother lay in hospital with the disease.
The girl, Emily Viegas, died last Thursday after her father, an essential warehouse worker, reportedly tried to care for her in the family apartment because he worried the overburdened local hospital would transfer her to a facility far from home.
Ford, who has come under scathing criticism for his past refusal to implement paid sick leave for essential workers, expressed condolences for the “terrible loss of this young life.” He called it a “heart-wrenching and a devastating reminder” of the what the virus can do.
“My heart breaks for this family,” Ford, who is in quarantine after a staffer tested positive, said in a statement. “I can’t imagine the unbearable pain and sorrow they are feeling right now.”
Several area politicians took to social media to express their condolences, including Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, who called Emily’s death “beyond heart wrenching.”
“As a parent, I am lost for words,” he said. “Horrifying. We can never underestimate the seriousness of COVID-19 and the variants.”
Brampton is one of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in Canada due to several workplace outbreaks. Health professionals and labour activists have long argued the province had failed to close down infected workplaces and designate their workers as a vaccination priority.
Canada to receive 1.9 million vaccine doses this week, including first from Johnson & Johnson
The federal government says it expects Canada to receive around 1.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine this week, including its very first shipment of single-dose shots from Johnson & Johnson.
The country is not currently scheduled to receive additional supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been in heavy demand after the eligible age for the shot was dropped to 40-plus in several provinces.
That demand is only expected to increase after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization adjusted its age recommendation for the shots, announcing on Friday that Canadians 30 and older should get the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Some provinces, however, have said they don’t have enough supply to expand eligibility any further.
Federal Public Procurement Minister Anita Anand said last week the government is in talks with the United States to secure additional AstraZeneca doses after President Joe Biden suggested his country might share the shots with Canada.
The U.S. has stockpiled tens of millions of AstraZeneca shots, but health officials there have not approved the vaccine for use.
Anand said earlier this month that Canada still expects to receive 4.1 million doses of AstraZeneca from all sources by the end of June.
The expected arrival of the first Johnson & Johnson doses later in the week follows the end of an 11-day pause in the U.S. as health officials looked into six cases of rare blood clots.
There have also been questions and concerns about possible contamination of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson doses at a Baltimore factory.
Health Canada released a statement on Sunday offering assurances that the two vaccines are safe.
“Health Canada has verified that the 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine imported into Canada from this facility meet quality specifications,” it said.
“The department reviewed test results of all vaccine lots that came into Canada, as well as the company’s quality control steps implemented throughout the manufacturing process to mitigate potential risks of contamination.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccines expected this week do not come from the Baltimore facility, it added.
This week will also mark the last in which Canada will receive less than 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as the pharmaceutical giants prepare to ramp up deliveries for the foreseeable future.
The government expects the Pfizer-BioNTech shots to arrive early in the week, and the Moderna doses around mid-week.
Provinces reported 231,540 new vaccinations administered over the past 24 hours on Sunday, for a total of 12,044,741 doses given since the start of the vaccination campaign in the winter.
Across the country, 1,018,381 people, or 2.7 per cent of the population, had been fully vaccinated. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 31,780.926 per 100,000.
– Lee Berthiaume, Ottawa
Manitoba tightens some public-health orders as COVID-19 cases rise
The Manitoba government is tightening some of its public-health orders as COVID-19 numbers rise.
Starting Wednesday, people will not be allowed to have any visitors at their homes, indoors or out, with some exceptions for people who live alone.
Attendance at religious services will be cut to a maximum of 10 people.
Food courts in shopping malls will have to close, and retail store capacity will be reduced to 25 per cent from 33 per cent.
The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, says the measures will be in place for four weeks and are needed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Health officials are reporting 210 new cases and one death.
Earlier, the provincial government said it is expanding its COVID-19 vaccination priority program to include all adults who live or work in the northern health region.
Adults who live in the Seven Oaks West neighbourhood in Winnipeg can also now get a shot, as can people who work there in certain public-facing jobs such as teachers, grocery store workers and child care staff.
The province announced similar priority measures last week for three neighbourhoods in central Winnipeg.
Elsewhere in the province, the minimum age for vaccinations remains at 30 and up for First Nations people, and 40 and up for others.
Some Ontario pharmacies could administer Pfizer vaccine as part of pilot project
Ontario is seeking to have some pharmacies administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as the province’s supply of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot remains uncertain.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province is working on a pilot project that would deliver the Pfizer shot to “several” pharmacies.
She says the government is looking into how to manage the specific storage and transportation requirements for the vaccine, which have so far limited its distribution to hospitals and other such settings.
Ontario pharmacies have been administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to those 40 and older and the government said last week it had roughly 337,000 doses left, with no new shipments expected until May.
Elliott says the government is also considering allocating 50 per cent of its vaccines to hot spot areas once it receives more shipments of the Pfizer shot.
The shift has been recommended by Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, which says allocating shots based on transmission rate rather than age group would bring down COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
Federal Court judge dismisses bid to halt hotel quarantines
A group of air travellers has lost a Federal Court bid for an interim injunction to prohibit hotel quarantines for returning passengers.
Justice William Pentney says in a written ruling that the three-day stay in federally designated facilities does not put Canadians’ security at significant risk.
The mandatory quarantine – part of a two-week self-isolation regime for travellers flying back from abroad – came into effect on Feb. 22 following federal measures announced the previous month.
It has faced some backlash from opposition MPs, civil liberties groups and health experts for either coming too late, encroaching on individual freedoms or not going far enough.
The judge says travellers “may be vexed and inconvenienced” by the quarantine and the attendant $2,000 bill, but that the risk they will unwittingly carry COVID-19 variants over the border even after testing negative before flight departure means the measures should stand until a final ruling comes down.
The broader case against the hotel stays, organized by the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, is slated to continue in Federal Court with a three-day hearing starting June 1.
Northern Alberta mayor seeks Jason Kenny’s help to find solutions for local COVID-19 crisis
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his government is working with the region that includes Fort McMurray, particularly on vaccines, after the area declared a state of emergency due to high COVID-19 numbers.
Kenney says the province will try to get more vaccines to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and help more residents there take advantage of inoculations.
Kenney said there is a lower uptake on existing vaccines in the area in and around the oilsands hub city of Fort McMurray.
He said the uptake on first doses of vaccines has been about half of the 25 per cent average elsewhere in Alberta.
“The supply is there. Maybe the clinics and pharmacies have not been convenient enough for folks. Maybe there continues to be an issue of vaccine hesitancy in some of the surrounding First Nations,” Kenney said Monday.
“Those are issues that we have to work through.”
Don Scott, mayor of the municipality, said the issue is also one of eligibility, adding that their collective demographic is working against them.
“We’re a young region,” Scott said in an interview. “A lot of people who live in this region have not been qualifying for the vaccines yet.”
Most doses remain reserved for people with underlying conditions, on the health-care front lines or in older age groups. One vaccine, the Oxford-AstraZeneca, is available for those as young as 40.
Kenney said while he understands Scott’s concerns, the province won’t go against health recommendations and alter vaccine age eligibility.
Wood Buffalo has just over 1,100 active cases, all but a handful directly in Fort McMurray.
Alberta Health Services said Fort McMurray’s hospital, the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, has 22 patients with COVID-19 and has increased intensive care bed capacity to handle the nine in serious condition.
About 40 elective surgeries have been cancelled and minor surgical procedures scaled back.
Wood Buffalo council passed a motion Sunday approving the state of local emergency, giving council more powers to address the pandemic.
Wood Buffalo is one of a number of school divisions that have moved students to online learning as case numbers grow.
In the last two weeks, students in grades 7 through 12 in Calgary and Edmonton were also sent home. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, citing respect for local autonomy, approved the requests.
However, a request made last week to move all grade 7 to 12 students home in the Black Gold School Division, south of Edmonton, was rejected. Just one school, Thorsby Junior Senior High, is being allowed to send students home until May 10.
Black Gold superintendent Bill Romanchuk said high case counts and operational pressures were the reason.
Nicole Sparrow, spokeswoman for LaGrange, said Black Gold’s data didn’t justify its request.
“Forty one per cent of their schools that offer Grades 7-12 did not have any COVID-19 cases nor did they have any students or staff quarantining,” Sparrow said in an email.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the Black Gold situation suggests Kenney’s United Conservative government is giving local bodies autonomy in name but not in practice.
Notley said those in schools are best able to assess safety and operation. “This education minister needs to get her act together and needs to be accountable.”
On Monday, there were 1,495 new COVID-19 cases reported provincewide. There were 616 people in hospital, 145 of whom were in intensive care. There were seven more deaths, bringing that total to 2,074.
About 1.4 million Albertans have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Kenney’s government has not brought in any new provincewide health restrictions for three weeks. In that time, there have been well over 1,000 new infections every day.
The last time Kenney tightened the rules, almost half his backbench caucus publicly criticized the restrictions, saying they needlessly infringed on the economy and on personal liberties.
Currently, Alberta does not allow indoor social gatherings. Outdoor gatherings are capped at 10. There are sharp restrictions on businesses and many entertainment and recreation venues remain closed.
Notley said Kenney, already facing low poll approval numbers, is reluctant to bring in any broad restrictions because he risks further fracturing a fragile governing caucus.
Kenney said the rising case rates stem not from inadequate rules but from too many ignoring existing strictures.
“More rules don’t mean more compliance,” he said.
Alberta to begin vaccinating meat-plant workers this week, health minister says
Alberta is to begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to thousands of meat-packing employees across the province starting this week, but a union leader says some workers are reluctant to receive a shot from the government or an employer they don’t trust.
The provincial government said that, starting Tuesday, vaccines will be offered to more than 15,000 workers at 136 federal and provincial plants.
“In order to vaccinate as many workers as possible as quickly as possible, a variety of approaches will be used, including on-site clinics, pharmacies and AHS clinics,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro told reporters Monday.
Shandro said the shots will be given over the next few weeks, provided doses arrive as scheduled.
Plans for a vaccination clinic at Cargill’s beef slaughterhouse south of Calgary were put off last week.
That plant was the site of a major outbreak last year, with nearly half of its 2,200 workers testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
Shandro said the vaccination postponement was due to a reduction and delay in last week’s Moderna vaccine shipment.
“Now that supply from Ottawa is finally ramping up, we’ll continue to get doses to Albertans as quickly and as safely as possible,” he said on Twitter earlier Monday.
Shandro later added that a pilot project led by University of Calgary researchers at the Cargill plant aims to combat vaccine hesitancy by providing translated materials and on-site translators to the workforce largely made up of foreign workers and new Canadians.
Thomas Hesse with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401 said employees at Cargill had their vaccinations cancelled within 24 hours of their appointment times last week, while drop-in spots for those eligible for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were being offered elsewhere.
He said 75 to 85 per cent of union members would take the vaccine, but some are hesitant.
“They just don’t want to take a vaccine from the very employer and the government that didn’t protect them before,” he said.
“So they are cynical and suspect, not of the vaccine, but of the entities that are delivering the vaccine.”
But Hesse said he’s glad to see an acknowledgment that some workplaces are more vulnerable than others to COVID-19 spread.
“I’m gratified that we’re seeing the vaccination roll out,” he said. “I guess I’ll believe it when I see it – when I see the needles in arms.”
Ontario reports 3,510 new COVID-19 cases and 24 additional deaths
Ontario is reporting 3,510 new cases of COVID-19 today and 24 more deaths linked to the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 1,015 new cases in Toronto, 909 in Peel Region, and 391 in York Region.
She also says there are 244 new cases in Durham Region and 206 in Ottawa.
Today’s data is based on more than 33,800 tests completed.
The Ministry of Health reports that 2,271 people are in hospital with COVID-19, but notes that more than 10 per cent of hospitals did not submit data over the weekend and that number will likely go up when those reports are received.
There are 877 people in intensive care because of the virus and 605 on ventilator.
Nova Scotia reports record number of new COVID-19 cases, school to close in Halifax
Nova Scotia set another single-day high for COVID-19 cases Monday with 66 new infections, prompting the closure of all schools in the Halifax area.
Premier Iain Rankin told reporters the virus was “on the move” in Halifax. “We have community spread and we need to do all we can to slow it down,” he said during a briefing.
Health officials identified 58 cases in the Halifax region, five in the province’s eastern zone, two in the western zone and one in the northern zone. The province has 323 active reported infections.
As a result, the premier said all schools in Halifax would close for the next two weeks beginning Tuesday. The decision also affects Conseil scolaire acadien provincial schools and schools in the Enfield, Elmsdale and Mount Uniacke areas.
Rankin said a number of teachers and school staff have already been diagnosed with the virus or are self-isolating because of close contacts. He said health officials were also keeping a close eye on three schools in Cape Breton with reported cases of COVID-19.
“None of our (Cape Breton) students have tested positive, and at this point there is no known community spread,” Rankin said.
Nine more school-based cases were identified, including eight in the Halifax area and one in Sydney Mines, N.S. As of late afternoon Monday, 29 schools were already closed provincewide, including 25 in the Halifax area.
Before the announcement, the government was faced with conflicting advice. The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union questioned why the province hadn’t forced more schools to switch to remote learning.
But a pediatric advisory committee stressed the importance of face-to-face, in-classroom learning. Dr. Andrew Lynk, chief of pediatrics at IWK Health, said schools have been shown to be areas of low to minimal disease transmission and do not amplify community spread.
Chief medical office of health Dr. Robert Strang said while he supports the advisory group’s stance, the increasing number of school cases in Halifax has put pressure on the school system’s ability to operate safely.
“It’s creating significant staffing pressures with many people off because they are waiting for a test result or if they are a contact of a known case,” Strang said.
Following a lockdown imposed last week for Halifax, Strang announced tighter restrictions for the rest of the province until at least May 20, including a gathering limit of 10 people, both indoors and outdoors (in Halifax the limit is five.)
People are also asked to avoid travel outside of their communities unless it’s necessary for work, health care or legal requirements. As well, all school field trips and school-organized activities such as sports and music have been stopped.
Outside Halifax and the surrounding area, wedding and funeral ceremonies can have 10 people, while restaurants and licensed establishments can operate at 50 per cent capacity, provide service until 11 p.m. and must close for seated service by midnight. In Halifax, restaurants and bars have closed, except for takeout, and weddings and funerals are limited to five people.
Rankin said the restrictions are necessary because of the seriousness of the outbreak, noting that five people are in hospital including a person in their 20s who is in intensive care in Halifax.
“This is a wake-up call to our younger population – you are not invincible and you need to take this virus and the variants seriously,” he said.
Meanwhile, it was announced that people 55 and older could now book appointments for the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at clinics across the province. Officials said appointments for the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine also remain open for people 55 to 64 years old.
Monday’s case numbers came after the province reported 63 new cases on Sunday – which surpassed a previous record of 55 cases reported on April 23, 2020.
With the Halifax area under lockdown until at least May 20, authorities also doubled fines for breaching public health orders, to $2,000 from $1,000.
B.C. reports 17 deaths and nearly 2,500 new cases of COVID-19 over three days
British Columbia has confirmed that COVID-19 was a factor in the death of an infant from the Interior Health region, the province’s top doctor says.
The baby was being treated in hospital in January and the BC Coroners Service has since determined COVID-19 was a factor in the death, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told a news briefing on Monday.
Henry reported the baby’s death while addressing concerns raised in Ontario that more people are dying at home after contracting COVID-19.
The coroners’ service in B.C. has a process in place to investigate whether the illness was a factor in any sudden and unexpected deaths, she said.
The service has investigated several hundred of those deaths since last March and a “very small” number have been linked to COVID-19, she said.
One of the deaths was the infant, now the youngest person to die from COVID-19 in the province, Henry said.
Health officials have been working with the coroners’ service as COVID-19 cases rose in recent weeks and they have not seen an increase in sudden deaths that should be investigated as possibly linked to the illness, she said.
“So far we’re not seeing that happen here, but we will continue to pay attention,” Henry said, urging people to seek medical care if they need it.
Seventeen more people died from COVID-19 in B.C. since Friday, pushing the death toll to 1,571, she said.
B.C. has detected 2,491 new cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period and 484 people are in hospital with the illness, including 158 in intensive care.
Just shy of 8,200 cases are active in B.C. and more than 12,000 people are under public health monitoring after exposure to confirmed cases.
The number of contacts that each person has while infectious has come down since B.C. tightened health restrictions, but the circulation of more transmissible variants continues to elevate the risk, Henry said.
“Before, if somebody got sick from a contact they had at work and came home to their family, there might have been one or two other people in the family that caught it. But now we’re seeing everybody get it,” she said.
“We are still seeing that transmission is primarily related to social connections in people’s homes, where they have groups of people, when they’re meeting with groups of people indoors,” she said.
More than 1.6 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the province so far, including just over 89,000 second doses.
— By Brenna Owen in Vancouver
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