- Multiple provinces struggling to keep up with demand for the flu vaccine.
- U.S. Midwest sees new infections, hospitalizations rising to record levels.
- Europe seeing record daily infection numbers.
- India reports its lowest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in nearly three months.
- New COVID-19 rent relief program won’t help struggling businesses until next month, group says.
- Meet the experts trying to change the way to communicate about COVID-19.
Health-care providers in multiple provinces are struggling to keep up with demand for the flu vaccine, as Canadians hope to fend off a “twindemic” of influenza and COVID-19.
The online booking system in Montérégie, Que., crashed on Tuesday, the first day residents were able to book an appointment through the regional health authority.
A review of Montreal pharmacy locations shows that, in many cases, the first round of vaccinations is already booked up.
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“We’re overwhelmed,” said Fady Kamel, a pharmacist and owner of the Proximed branch in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, Que. “We’re getting a lot of people that are very anxious about their vaccine.”
The province has ordered two million doses, which is about 400,000 more than in 2019.
Kamel says he is getting ready for a possible shortage. His pharmacy has ordered 1,000 doses, but he expects the first delivery to be less than half of that.
Experts say that even if the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, giving it to as many people as possible will help limit the strain on a health system already burdened with the coronavirus pandemic.
“The system is stretched to the limit,” said Dr. Karl Weiss, chief of the infectious diseases division at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital. “So imagine if we have the same season, but we add COVID on top of it.”
In Toronto, Dr. Alisa Naiman’s North York clinic has 7,000 patients, but she’s only received 500 shots so far, including 150 high-dose shots for seniors that have already run out.
Other Ontario health-care providers, from family physicians to hospital workers, are also documenting the surge in demand and raising concerns that limited supplies of the flu vaccine are rapidly drying up.
Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa, has 1,400 patients at her clinic but has only received 140 regular shots of the flu vaccine and 15 high-dose versions. That’s not nearly enough, she said, to cover her more than 180 patients over the age of 65.
“Who do I give the high dose to, and who do I turn away?” she said.
The province is investing $70 million to purchase more than five million flu vaccine doses, which marks 700,000 more than the approximate usage last year. Ontario will also purchase additional doses if needed, according to the Ministry of Health. “Broader community distribution of the flu shot, including to primary-care providers and pharmacies, is currently being rolled out and will continue in the coming weeks,” the ministry said in a statement.
In British Columbia, some people trying to book flu shots are facing long wait times.
“It’s like trying to win a lottery or get tickets to a concert or something,” said Naomi McCormick, a mother of two young children in Victoria.
McCormick said her family doctor is not administering flu shots because of COVID-19. Her only option to vaccinate the whole family at once is a public flu clinic, and she’s had no luck trying to book online.
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In a statement, Vancouver Coastal Health says its flu vaccination program is “getting underway” and is urging residents to begin making appointments. However, its mass public flu clinics aren’t yet up and running.
In Nova Scotia, chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said there is usually a rush when the first round of flu shots arrive, but any time over the next eight weeks is a good time to get vaccinated.
“We’re asking people to be patient,” he said.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 2:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 191,310 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 161,135 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,698.
New Brunswick, the only hot spot in the so-called Atlantic bubble, announced eight new cases on Wednesday, bringing the province’s total of active cases to 90. Five people are in hospital, with one in intensive care.
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Quebec on Thursday reported 969 new cases of coronavirus, as well as 30 newly reported deaths. The number of people in hospital is 493, with 83 in intensive care.
Ontario reported 783 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, mainly concentrated in four public health units: Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa. Toronto has consistently seen the most new daily cases throughout the pandemic, but Ottawa currently has the worst per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases in the province, according to officials.
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Manitoba is reporting 146 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, setting a record daily high for the second consecutive day — and the fourth time in a week. The province also announced two more COVID-19-related deaths — a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s, both from Winnipeg.
Saskatchewan is reporting 25 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 254. Seven people are currently in hospital in the province, with six in the ICU.
According to provincial data, Alberta hit an all time high on Monday with 102 Albertans hospitalized and 13 of those patients in intensive care. As of Tuesday, 100 people were hospitalized with 14 in ICU.
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On Wednesday, British Columbia reported another 158 cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths. Currently, there are 1,496 active cases of the virus and of those cases, 84 are hospitalized and 24 are in intensive care.
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Officials in Yukon announced Wednesday that a previously identified “probable” case of COVID-19 was a false alarm. An individual had tested positive Sunday in Whitehorse using a GeneXpert rapid test. However, a second test was sent to a B.C. lab for validation, and it was found to be negative.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says the federal government knows of 209 active cases of COVID-19 on First Nations and in Indigenous communities.
He says the figures are troubling and a sign of the pandemic’s resurgence across the country. Indigenous leaders worked hard to get the first wave under control and he says they can do it again with proper federal support.
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What’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 38.7 million. More than one million people have died, while more than 26.7 million have recovered.
In the United States, more than 22,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Wednesday across the Midwest, surpassing a previous record of more than 20,000 on Oct. 9.
Hospitalizations in those states also reached a record high for the 10th day in a row as some hospitals began feeling the strain. More than 86 per cent of the beds in Wisconsin’s intensive care units were in use as of Wednesday, and a field hospital opened in a Milwaukee suburb in case medical facilities become overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, U.S. Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris will cancel her travel plans through Sunday after one of her staff members tested positive for COVID-19, the campaign said in a statement.
Harris was last tested on Wednesday and was negative, the campaign said. Her communications director, Liz Allen, had tested positive.
Record daily infection figures in Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy added to fears on Thursday that Europe is running out of chances to control its latest coronavirus outbreak. France has set a 9 p.m. curfew for many of its biggest cities as governments across the continent take increasingly tough action.
New infections have surged across Europe over recent weeks as the fall kicks in, prompting authorities in many places to start reimposing restrictions that were relaxed over the summer. The Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Britain are among the countries causing particular concern.
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The British government on Thursday moved London and seven other areas up into its second-highest coronavirus risk tier, which means that more than 11 million people will be barred from meeting with anyone indoors from outside their households and will be asked to minimize travel starting this weekend.
The government is negotiating with the leaders of Manchester, Lancashire and other communities in northern England about moving into the top risk tier, which would require the closure of many businesses.
Speaking to reporters, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham once again rejected government pressure to accept the higher risk rating without further financial support, saying, “They are willing to sacrifice jobs and businesses here to try and save them elsewhere.”
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While Germany, the European Union’s most populous nation, is still in comparatively good shape, alarm bells have started ringing there, too. On Thursday, the country’s national disease control centre reported 6,638 cases over 24 hours — exceeding the previous record of nearly 6,300 set in late March, although testing in the country of 83 million has expanded greatly since then.
Hong Kong and Singapore say they have agreed to a bilateral air travel bubble, re-establishing travel links as coronavirus infections in both cities decline.
Under the air travel bubble, travellers from Hong Kong and Singapore will not be restricted on their travel purposes, Hong Kong Commerce Minister Edward Yau said at a news conference on Thursday. This means that tourists from each city will be able to visit the other.
Both Hong Kong and Singapore temporarily closed their borders earlier this year, banning short-term visitors from entering as they fought to reduce coronavirus infections.
Under the air travel bubble, travellers will also not be subject to compulsory quarantine, provided they have taken coronavirus tests mutually recognized by both cities, with a negative test result.
Additionally, travellers are required to fly on dedicated flights, which will only serve travellers between Hong Kong and Singapore.
India has reported its lowest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in nearly three months.
The Health Ministry on Thursday reported 680 fatalities in the past 24 hours, the lowest in 11 weeks, raising the country’s death toll since the pandemic began to 111,266. The country was seeing more than 1,000 virus deaths per day last month.
The ministry also reported 67,708 new infections, raising India’s total to more than 7.3 million.
According to the ministry, India’s average number of daily cases dropped to 72,576 last week from 92,830 during the week of Sept. 9, when the virus peaked. Over the last month, the country has been seeing a trend of declining cases on a week-to-week basis.
Health experts have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the religious festival season beginning later this month, which is marked by huge gatherings of people in temples and shopping districts.