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A box containing vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, on Feb. 6, 2021.

ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

Ontario says it expects to receive more than 254,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine next week and will be reserving them for second shots.

The province announced a pause yesterday on using AstraZeneca for first shots due to an increased risk of a rare blood-clotting syndrome linked to the vaccine.

It says today that it is still determining when it will start administering second AstraZeneca shots and is also reviewing the possibility of using a different vaccine for the second dose.

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There have been at least eight cases in Ontario of the rare blood clotting syndrome linked to the AstraZeneca shot out of more than 901,800 doses given in the province. None of the Ontario cases have been fatal.

The province also says it is developing a plan to vaccinate children aged 12 to 17 starting in June.

Ontario says half of the province’s adults have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

It says the rate is slightly higher in hot spot communities – 54 per cent – as it allocates half of its total vaccine shipments to those areas.

Ontario reported 2,320 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and 32 more deaths from the virus. The data is based on 45,681 tests.

The province says there are currently 1,673 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ontario. Of those patients, 776 are in intensive care and 559 are on ventilators.

Mental health hospitalizations involving young people in Quebec rise during pandemic

The number of Quebeckers aged 12 to 17 admitted to hospital for mental health reasons following an emergency room visit increased 40 per cent in January and February over the same period last year.

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That’s according to a new report by a provincial health research institute, which looked at mental health-related emergency room visits and hospital admissions involving adolescents during the pandemic.

The report by the Institut national d’excellence en sante et services sociaux says emergency room visits for mental health reasons by young people dropped significantly in the spring of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

But mental health visits by that age group began rising last summer and have remained at levels comparable to the year before.

The report found that visits to hospital emergency rooms by young people declined significantly during the pandemic but that visits for mental health reasons declined much less, leading the report’s authors to suggest mental health issues may be a growing problem for the province’s youth.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Quebec government said people who are severely immunosuppressed or receiving kidney dialysis can get a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine earlier than planned.

The Health Department said the new directive is aimed at people considered at high risk of complications from COVID-19. It said those people will be able to get a second dose of vaccine within 28 days instead of 112 days, which is the delay for the general public.

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The province’s immunization committee has said data indicates people undergoing special treatments or with certain conditions have a poor immune response after the first dose, making a second dose important.

People affected by the change include patients on dialysis for severe kidney disease, patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer, and patients who have had an organ transplant or a stem cell transplant.

Quebec has lowered vaccine eligibility to people as young as 25 and Quebeckers 18 and up will be able to book an appointment by the end of the week.

Health officials reported 745 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 11 deaths linked to the disease, including three within the previous 24 hours. They said hospitalizations dropped by 10, to 530, and 126 people were in intensive care, a drop of two.

Nova Scotia pauses use of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, launches sick pay leave program

Nova Scotia has become the latest province to pause the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, citing concerns about the rare but serious blood clotting syndrome that has been potentially linked to the vaccine’s use.

Provincial health officials said the move is based on “an abundance of caution” and on the fact Nova Scotia has enough other vaccines to immunize people age 40 and older. It joins provinces including Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec in backing away from use of AstraZeneca.

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Chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang told reporters Wednesday those who had appointments for an AstraZeneca vaccine will be contacted by their clinics to book a new appointment for either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Those who have had one AstraZeneca dose will need to wait, however, on guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, he added.

Premier Iain Rankin said the province is waiting to learn results of an international study on whether AstraZeneca can be mixed with other vaccines.

There have been no reports of blood clots linked to the vaccine in the province, Strang said, and there are about 2,500 remaining AstraZeneca doses on ice as they wait for word from NACI.

Rankin said residents had already voiced a preference for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, leading to the cancellation of more than 1,000 appointments for AstraZeneca. “It’s difficult for me to think of saying no to any vaccine, but my goal as your premier is to get everyone immunized as quickly as possible,” Rankin said.

Meanwhile, the province reported 149 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, most of which were in the region that includes Halifax. Strang said a testing backlog has now been cleared, and there are early signs lockdown measures imposed last month are beginning to make a difference.

Despite lower daily numbers, Nova Scotia Health announced Wednesday the activation of a provincial plan to increase intensive care capacity. The health agency said some ICU patients, both with and without COVID-19, have been transferred from the Halifax region to the northern and western health regions. It did not specify how many patients were transferred but said it was fewer than five.

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“While a spike in hospital admissions for COVID-19 was expected this week based on recent positive test numbers, so far the proportion of those patients requiring intensive care has been higher than anticipated,” the agency said in a news release. “These patients are most often otherwise healthy people, not the frail, older patients we saw admitted last spring.” It said 20 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care in the province Wednesday, with 15 of them in the Halifax region.

Nova Scotia also announced the launch of a new $16-million paid sick leave program. Rankin said people who miss less than 50 per cent of their work week in a one-week period due to COVID-19 may be eligible for up to four paid days. That includes people who are getting tested, isolating while waiting on test results or getting vaccinated.

The program is for sick days taken between May 10 and July 31 and covers wages up to $160 a day. Rankin said the goal of the program is to eliminate possible infection in the workplace.

“If someone is symptomatic and they think they might miss just two or three days, I think that some of them may take a risk and go to work for financial reasons,” Rankin said. The province said the program complements the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which may apply after an employee has been off for 50 per cent or more of their scheduled work week.

Rankin also responded to questions surrounding a letter from a civil liberties group that called Nova Scotia’s boundary closure “unconstitutional.”

Cara Faith Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote a letter dated May 11 to Rankin and Strang saying the order violates mobility rights guaranteed in the charter and should be scrapped.

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The premier closed the province’s boundaries to the rest of the country on Monday to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and said the restrictions will be in effect until at least the end of May.

Travellers to Nova Scotia can apply for an exception if they have a property purchase agreement or one-year lease agreement dated on or before April 21, with a closing date on or before May 20.

People moving into the province may also be eligible for an exception if they have a letter of employment dated May 7 at the latest, for jobs that can’t be done virtually or deferred.

Rankin said the province had done its due diligence in preparing for the closure and is confident the measures respect the Constitution.

Manitoba opens its COVID-19 vaccine appointments to all residents aged 18 and older, death toll hits 1,000

Manitoba opened COVID-19 vaccine appointments to all adults Wednesday as the province reached a grim pandemic milestone – 1,000 deaths.

Due to increased vaccine supplies, mainly of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, health officials dropped the minimum age for vaccinations to 18 from 24. They had reduced it from 30 to 24 a day earlier.

“Our saving grace, if you will, has been this incredibly robust Pfizer supply into the future,” said Johanu Botha, co-lead of the province’s vaccination effort. An upcoming shipment of Moderna has also allowed the effort to speed up, he added.

The extra supplies, and a growing number of sites where people can get vaccinated, means all Manitobans will be able to get their second dose by the end of July, Botha said.

The province also announced a change in its plan for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Due to both uncertain supply and concerns about rare blood clots, AstraZeneca will no longer be used for first doses, except in a small number of cases in which people might have trouble getting access to other vaccines. Supplies will be reserved as second doses for people who received AstraZeneca initially.

The blood-clotting syndrome that appears to be linked to the vaccine is extremely rare, about one in 60,000 recent data shows, but it can be fatal

“We remain confident that AstraZeneca is a safe and effective vaccine,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the vaccine team.

“It has protected many tens of thousands of Manitobans who would not otherwise have had that protection.”

Reimer added the benefits of AstraZeneca far outweigh the risks.

“But now that we have this great supply coming in of Pfizer and Moderna, we want to look to the supply issues of AstraZeneca and make sure that we are saving as much as possible, given the uncertainties we have around the export of the vaccine coming out of India.”

The COVID-19 virus, boosted by highly infectious variants, has been rampaging through India. Hundreds of thousands of new cases are added everyday and India is no longer shipping out any of the AstraZeneca vaccine it produces.

Manitoba health officials reported 364 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and three deaths. That brought the total number of deaths from the virus to 1,000. The province has had the second-highest COVID-19 per-capita death rate among provinces, behind Quebec, says data tracked by the federal government.

The Opposition New Democrats called on the Progressive Conservative government to increase health-care spending and to fill nurse vacancies, including 15 empty positions the NDP says exist at one intensive care unit in Winnipeg.

“Will the premier finally commit to hiring more nurses to make up for the damage that he’s caused to date?” NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked in the legislature.

“The fact is we inherited a system that had been neglected for many many years (under the former NDP government),” Premier Brian Pallister said.

Yukon strikes deal with Ottawa over Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to immunize 12- to 17-year-olds

Yukon will start vaccinating all youths between 12 and 17 years old with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the next month, as the territory aims for full vaccination by mid-July.

Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee says Yukon has reached a deal with the federal government to get enough doses to fully vaccinate all its 2,641 youth in the age group.

McPhee says the goal is to give a first dose by the end of the school year, but she did not have specifics of the vaccination rollout.

She says the unfolding COVID-19 situation in the Northwest Territories, where an outbreak was linked to an elementary school, and in Nunavut, which has 69 active cases, shows how vulnerable the North still is to COVID-19 cases.

Yukon has had 84 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and now has one active case in a person who obtained the infection from outside the territory.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Brendan Hanley says he understands some parents may be wary about having their child vaccinated, but he urged families to take part.

“The question of ‘when will we vaccinate our kids’ has probably been the most common question I’ve had over the last couple of weeks,” he said. “I encourage all parents of youth in this age group to take advantage of this opportunity to protect more Yukon citizens.”

Hanley says about 75 per cent of Yukon’s population has received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and he would like to see similar numbers for the second dose.

The territory originally opted for the Moderna vaccine over concerns about transporting the Pfizer vaccine in ultra-cold temperatures, Hanley says.

However, he says the strict transportation and storage requirements for Pfizer vaccines have changed, making it possible to use in this vaccination plan.

Hanley says he expects the Moderna vaccine to be approved for use in children shortly.

More details on the immunization rollout will be available in the coming weeks, Hanley said.

Nunavut working to get Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for teens, territory’s top doctor says

Nunavut’s chief public health officer says the government is working to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for teens, but he says there is no timeline on when doses might arrive.

Dr. Michael Patterson says Nunavut is looking at swapping doses of Moderna for doses of Pfizer, as the Northwest Territories has already done.

Last week, Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in young people 12 and older, but Nunavut only has the Moderna vaccine.

Patterson also says there has been outdoor transmission of COVID-19 in Iqaluit, including among people on smoke breaks at work sites and between kids playing together outside.

He says almost one-quarter of Iqaluit’s cases are people under the age of 18.

There are 69 active infections in Iqaluit, a city of about 8,000, and four people have been hospitalized in Ottawa.

British Columbia extends provincial state of emergency

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a news conference in Vancouver, on Oct. 25, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

B.C. has once again extended a provincial state of emergency allowing it to use health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Premier John Horgan says the extension until May 25 is necessary as the vaccine rollout speeds up to put the pandemic “behind us.”

The original state of emergency declaration was made on March 18th, 2020, the day after provincial health officer Doctor Bonnie Henry declared a public health emergency.

Since then, the province has used legal means to issue multiple orders, including on the wearing of masks, limiting gatherings and preventing travel outside of three main health regions.

British Columbia expecting more AstraZeneca vaccine to use for second doses, health minister says

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix says the province expects to receive more Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and some of that supply will be used for people’s second doses.

Dix says a “significant amount” of the COVID-19 vaccine was also made available in the last week in the Island and Interior health regions.

The province reiterated in a statement on Tuesday that people aged 30 and older are eligible to receive the AstraZeneca shot at participating pharmacies, when supply is available.

Several other provinces including Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec announced new restrictions on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week.

Dix acknowledged discussion around its use in other provinces, saying he understands they’ve used up all of their supply.

He adds that B.C. officials are working on a plan to give the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to youth aged 12 to 18 now that Health Canada has approved its use.

As of today, Dix says B.C. has cleared the 50 per cent mark for eligible adults who have received at least one dose of vaccine, including more than 85 per cent of people aged 70 and over.

Alberta cabinet minister apologizes for accusing Trudeau Liberals of rooting for COVID-19 to buckle province’s health system

Alberta’s justice minister says he was wrong to accuse Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Alberta’s Opposition NDP, and the media of rooting for COVID-19 to buckle the province’s health system.

Last night Kaycee Madu apologized on Twitter, saying he believes all Canadians want the pandemic to end.

His remarks came after Madu’s spokesman told reporters that the minister was standing by his earlier comments and he would not apologize.

Trudeau says his government is doing everything it can to end the pandemic and that Canadians don’t want political finger-pointing right now.

Saskatchewan plans to have second vaccine doses available to everyone by middle of July

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his government plans to have second doses of COVID-19 vaccines available to everyone in the province by some time in the middle of July.

So far about 40 per cent of Canadians are vaccinated with at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Saskatchewan is running ahead of national numbers, with about 50 per cent of adults having already received their first dose.

Moe says the province expects to start administering second doses later this month.

Report estimates nearly 66% of businesses have seen rise in cyberattacks since remote work enabled

A new report estimates nearly two-thirds of businesses globally, including 63 per cent in Canada, have seen an increase in targeted cyberattacks since they switched to widespread remote work.

The report from U.S. – based Proofpoint is based on a first-quarter survey of 1,400 chief information security officers at mid-sized and large businesses in 14 countries, including Canada.

More than half (51 per cent) the Canadian information security officers said that human error is the biggest vulnerability because most cyberattacks involve some type of interaction with people.

Proofpoint spokeswoman Lucia Milica says there are more ways for criminals to target remote workers who are outside the organization’s security perimeter.

She says Canadian respondents mainly cited as problems the use of unauthorized devices or software, as well as weak passwords.

E-mail fraud was the biggest problem identified by the Canadian respondents, and one of the top three vulnerabilities in 12 of the countries studied.

Unpaid COVID-19 fines could lead to refusal of B.C. driver’s licences

People who don’t pay their COVID-19 fines may be unable to obtain or renew a British Columbia driver’s or vehicle licence under proposed legislation introduced Wednesday.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the province previously moved up the date for when unpaid fines would be sent to collection, and this next step will target a small group of people who refuse to pay.

The proposed changes to the Motor Vehicle Act will extend “refuse to issue” restrictions to fines issued under the Emergency Program Act and COVID-19 Related Measures Act.

The restrictions start July 1, 2021.

Of the nearly $1.18-million in COVID-19 fines processed by the Insurance Corporation of B.C., only $172,825 has been paid.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo explained the different roles played by Health Canada, which authorizes vaccines for use after determining they are safe and effective, and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which recommends how they should be used. He says provinces and territories then make their own choices about how to roll out vaccines based on individual circumstances. The Canadian Press

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