December 11, 2023

Here’s your daily update with everything you need to know on the coronavirus situation in B.C. and around the world.

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Here’s your update with everything you need to know on the COVID-19 situation in B.C. and around the world for July 12, 2022.

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We’ll provide summaries of what’s going on right here so you can get the latest news at a glance. This page will be updated regularly every day this week, with developments added as they happen, so be sure to check back often.

You can also get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here.

Here are the latest B.C. figures given on July 7 for June 26 – June 2:

• Hospitalized cases: 369
• Intensive care: 36
• New cases: 765 over seven days
• Total number of confirmed cases: 375,357
• Total deaths over seven days: 24 (total 3,788)
Read the full report here | Next update: July 14 at 1 p.m. (or later)

Headlines at a glance

• The World Health Organization says COVID-19 remains a global emergency, nearly 2 1/2 years after it was first declared.
• In the U.S., Biden officials push to offer second booster shots to all adults
• Hong Kong suspends some hospital services as virus cases swell
• Yet another Omicron variant has emerged and is raising concerns in India and beyond.
• Here’s a primer on COVID’s latest twist — the BA.4 and BA.5 variants — and how to protect against it.
• The European Union’s population shrank for a second year running last year as the region reels from more than two million deaths from the coronavirus.
• B.C. is set to roll out second booster program to British Columbians age 12+ starting in the fall.
• Shanghai is reporting a new Omicron subvariant has been discovered, in a case linked with one overseas.
• After declaring 7th wave, Quebec reports 17 more COVID-19 deaths.
• COVID hospitalizations in B.C. increased by 35 per cent this week.
• A COVID-19 wave among riders at the Tour de France, cycling’s biggest event, could decimate the event.
• A Vancouver Coastal Health employee is alleging discrimination over a lack of COVID-19 precautions at work.
• Ontario is considering expanding COVID-19 booster shots to all adults amid a seventh wave.

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WHO says COVID-19 remains a global health emergency

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that COVID-19 remains a global emergency, nearly 2 1/2 years after it was first declared.

The Emergency Committee, made up of independent experts, said in a statement that rising cases, ongoing viral evolution and pressure on health services in a number of countries meant that the situation was still an emergency.

Cases reported to WHO had risen by 30 per cent in the last fortnight, the statement said, although the committee accepted that increased population immunity, largely from vaccines, had seen a “decoupling” of cases from hospitalizations and deaths.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accepted the committee’s advice.

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The U.N. health agency first declared the highest level of alert, known as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, for COVID-19 on Jan. 30, 2020. Such a determination can help accelerate research, funding and international public health measures to contain a disease.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

Some Albertans will soon need a referral from doctor for PCR testing

The Alberta government says it is changing how it tests people for COVID-19.

Starting next week, Albertans who need a PCR test to inform their medical treatment must have a referral from a health-care professional.

Clinicians are to determine the best testing option for their patients, which could include rapid testing at home or in a clinic, in-clinic swabbing with the sample sent to the lab for PCR testing or a referral to an Alberta Health Services site for testing.

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Physicians will also be required to request lab tests on their patients’ behalf while using the Alberta Health Services online appointment booking system.

Self-referrals will still be available to people with symptoms who live or work in isolated Indigenous communities and workers in certain high-risk settings, such as health care, continuing care and correctional facilities.

Health Minister Jason Copping says in a statement that the changes would allow the province to direct its testing capacity toward those who are most at risk and allow health-care workers who were deployed to assessment centres during the pandemic to return to their regular roles.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, says Alberta can expect to see waves of COVID-19 continue into the fall.

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“I would like to remind Albertans of the importance of monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick and, for those eligible for treatment, quickly accessing rapid or PCR testing when sick,” she said.

— The Canadian Press

U.S. CDC director: BA.5 estimated to represent 65% of circulating COVID-19 variants

The fast-spreading BA.5 sub-lineage of Omicron is estimated to make up 65 per cent of the coronavirus variants in the United States as of last week, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday.

The BA.5 and BA.4 variants together accounted for more than 80 per cent of circulating variants last week, with BA.4 making up 16 per cent, Walensky told reporters at a White House briefing, adding that the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospital admissions has doubled since early May.

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— Reuters

Biden officials push to offer second booster shots to all adults

Biden administration officials are developing a plan to allow all adults to receive a second coronavirus booster shot, pending federal agency sign-offs, as the White House and health experts seek to blunt a virus surge that has sent hospitalizations to their highest levels since March 3.

Virus levels have risen across the country, fueled by ever-more-contagious omicron subvariants such as BA. 5 that evade some immune protections and have increased the risk of reinfections. About 112,000 new cases have been reported per day, according to The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day average – with the true number many times higher, say experts, as most Americans test at home.

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Hospitalization and death levels are mounting, although they remain significantly below January peaks, with about 38,000 people hospitalized with covid as of Sunday, and an average daily death toll of 327 as of Monday.

Currently, a second booster shot is available only to those 50 and older, as well as to those 12 and older who are immunocompromised. But administration officials are concerned by data that suggests immunity wanes within several months of the first booster shot.

While the booster plan still needs formal sign-off from regulators and public health officials, it has the backing of White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha and Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, according to five officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plan.

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While about 67% of all Americans have been fully vaccinated against the virus, only 34% of eligible Americans have received a first booster dose, according to federal data.

— Washington Post

Hong Kong suspends some hospital services as virus cases swell

Hong Kong suspended some non-emergency services in public hospitals as a surge in COVID patients strains the health-care system, with authorities warning the city’s virus situation continues to deteriorate.

Some public hospitals have started to reduce non-urgent procedures including endoscopies and elective surgeries in order to shift resources to caring for the rising number of Covid patients, Hospital Authority Chief Manager Sara Ho said at a briefing on Tuesday. If the situation continues to worsen, more non-urgent operations and some day-time services will need to be adjusted too, she said.

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Hong Kong is facing a virus resurgence that’s pushed the number of patients in public hospitals to about 1,000. Health officials have warned that the daily number of infections could climb to as much as 6,000 in two weeks, from 2,558 new local cases reported on Tuesday, with 300 people hospitalized each day.

“These measures are to mobilize both the manpower and beds so as to accommodate and anticipate the upsurge of pandemic patients,” Ho said.

The warning of a surge in cases comes alongside changes from the new administration to the financial hub’s virus strategies. The government is considering introducing a health code system that would bring the city more in line with Covid Zero measures used in China, which prioritizes stamping out infection at great social and economic cost.

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— Bloomberg

Yet another Omicron variant emerges, raises concerns in India and beyond

The quickly changing coronavirus has spawned yet another super contagious omicron mutant that’s worrying scientists as it gains ground in India and pops up in numerous other countries, including the United States.

Scientists say the variant — called BA.2.75 — may be able to spread rapidly and get around immunity from vaccines and previous infection. It’s unclear whether it could cause more serious disease than other omicron variants, including the globally prominent BA.5.

“It’s still really early on for us to draw too many conclusions,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “But it does look like, especially in India, the rates of transmission are showing kind of that exponential increase.” Whether it will outcompete BA.5, he said, is yet to be determined.

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Read the full story here.

— The Associated Press

What we know about BA.4 and BA.5 — the latest subvariants to cause COVID surge

If one thing is clear about COVID-19, it’s that keeping track of its various permutations is a never-ending challenge. Just when regular people think they have a handle on SARS-COV-2 — the virus that causes COVID disease — and its journey through the human race, scientists do their best to confuse us with new nomenclature.

The latest is BA.4 and BA.5, the subvariants of the pathogen that are making their presence known in a big way and causing renewed concerns about the pandemic. Here’s a primer on COVID’s latest twist — and how to protect against it.

Read the full story here.

— Tom Blackwell, Postmedia News

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Moderna to advance two Omicron vaccine candidates against newer variants

Moderna Inc said on Monday it was advancing two Omicron vaccine candidates for the fall, one designed against the BA.1 variant and another against the BA.4 and BA.5.

Vaccine makers including Moderna and rival Pfizer Inc are developing updated vaccines to target the fast-spreading Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which have gained a foothold in the United States over recent weeks.

Moderna said its decision to develop the bivalent vaccines was based on different market preferences for shots against the subvariants.

Bivalent vaccines are designed to target two different coronavirus variants – the original variant from 2020 and the newer Omicron variants.

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Moderna said new clinical data for its mRNA-1273.214 vaccine, designed to target the BA.1 variant, showed significantly higher neutralizing antibody responses against the fast-spreading BA.4 and BA.5 compared with the currently authorized booster.

The company’s second booster candidate, mRNA 1273.222, is based on the BA.4/5 strain and is being developed in accordance with recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration advice.

— Reuters

Hit by COVID-19, EU population shrinks for second year running: Eurostat

The European Union’s population shrank for a second year running last year, the bloc’s statistics office said on Monday, as the region reels from over two million deaths from the coronavirus.

According to Eurostat, the population of the 27 countries that make up the bloc fell by close to 172,000 from the previous year and over 656,000 from January 2020.

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“In 2020 and 2021 the positive net migration no longer compensated for the negative natural change in the EU and, as a consequence, the EU total population has been decreasing,” it said, pointing to impacts from the pandemic.

The number of deaths began outstripping births in the EU a decade ago, but immigration from outside the bloc helped offset the gap until the first year of the pandemic.

The previous time the EU had registered a fall in population was in 2011 – the only other time since 1960 – but this rapidly picked up due to net migration.

Given the pandemic, an aging population and relatively low fertility rates, Eurostat said deaths should continue to outstrip births in the coming years.

“Should this be the case,” it said, “the EU’s overall population decline or growth in the future is likely to depend largely on the contribution made by net migration.”

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— Reuters

EU backs second COVID booster for over-60s, before variant-adapted vaccines are ready

European Union health agencies on Monday recommended a second COVID-19 booster for everyone over 60, as well as medically vulnerable people, amid a new rise in infections and hospitalisations across Europe.

While existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalization and death, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.

EU health agencies have since April recommended a second booster only for those older than 80 and the most vulnerable.

The new recommendation is expected to facilitate national decisions to speed up vaccination campaigns, which have been slowing to nearly a halt in recent months.

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“We are currently seeing increasing COVID-19 case notification rates and an increasing trend in hospital and ICU admissions and occupancy in several countries mainly driven by the BA 5 sublineage of (the) Omicron (coronavirus variant),” said Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), in a statement.

“This signals the start of a new, widespread COVID-19 wave across the European Union,” she said, adding that giving the over 60s and medically vulnerable a second booster now would avert a significant number of hospitalisations and deaths.

Vaccine makers, such as Moderna Inc and partners Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, have been testing versions of their COVID vaccines modified to combat the BA.1 Omicron variant.

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Although they have said those vaccines generated a good immune response against BA.1 and the more recently circulating variants, they did see a lower response against BA.4 and BA.5.

— Reuters

B.C. to offer fall booster shots to everyone 12 and older starting September

Get ready to roll up your sleeves again.

B.C. health officials will be rolling out a vaccination campaign for second booster shots for millions of British Columbians age 12 and older in the fall, even as the province’s third wave of Omicron infections is already underway.

B.C. plans to offer this second round of booster shots to the general population starting September, following the recommendation of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, possibly using bivalent vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna which are currently awaiting regulatory approval by Health Canada.

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“The best thing to do is wait for the fall,” said Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead of B.C.’s immunization campaign at a news conference on Friday. “That’s when the risk is highest and that’s the strongest recommendation of when we want you to get your fall booster.”

Updates are expected to get sent out to British Columbians starting Monday, informing them of the recommended guidelines and encouraging them to sign up to get their shot in the fall.

Read the full story here.

— Cheryl Chan

Shanghai reports a new Omicron subvariant linked to an overseas case

The city of Shanghai has discovered a COVID-19 case involving a new subvariant Omicron BA.5.2.1, an official told a briefing on Sunday, signalling the complications China faces to keep up with new mutations as it pursues its “zero-COVID” policy.

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The case, found in the financial district of Pudong on July 8, was linked with a case from overseas, said Zhao Dandan, vice-director of the city’s health commission.

Shanghai, in eastern China, emerged from a lockdown lasting around two months at the start of June, but it has continued to impose tough restrictions, locking down buildings and compounds as soon as new potential transmission chains emerge.

Read the full story here.

Tour de France riders fear decimation due to COVID-19 surge

Tadej Pogacar’s rivals have been sharpening their knives as the Tour de France hits the Alps, but the biggest threat to the Slovenian’s quest for a third consecutive title might be the COVID-19 surge within the peloton.

Three riders in two days had to pull out of the race after being infected with the virus and showing symptoms, raising fears that the bunch could be decimated when all the riders will be tested on Sunday night and during the rest day in Morzine on Monday.

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A tent was set up by the teams’ buses near the finish of Sunday’s ninth stage and riders and staff members were queuing up to take a swab.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

Vancouver Coastal Health employee alleges discrimination over lack of COVID-19 precautions at work

B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal will hear the case of a woman who alleges she was discriminated against based on physical disability after being refused safety precautions against COVID-19 at work.

Enid Symonds, an office receptionist at Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, told a tribunal decision last week that she has physical disabilities that put her at risk of serious illness or death from the COVID-19 virus.She says since the beginning of the pandemic, she expressed concerns to VCH, her supervisor and her union about the safety of her working environment.

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In February 2020, Symonds told her supervisor she did not feel safe and suggested that Plexiglas could be installed around her workstation as it had been by VCH at other reception areas, according to the decision.

Symonds alleges the supervisor responded by saying she didn’t have face-to-face interactions with the public and to just “wash her hands more often.”

Read the full story here.

— Tiffany Crawford

Hospitalizations rise as third Omicron wave takes hold

The number of people in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19 jumped by 35 per cent in the last week as health experts warn of another Omicron wave.

On Thursday, 369 people were in hospital with the virus, up from last week’s 273. Out of the 369, 36 are in critical care.

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The most recent data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, which releases its weekly update on the state of COVID-19 in the province every Thursday, shows 765 cases were reported from June 26 to July 2, up from 620 the week before.

During the same week, 24 people died within 30 days of a positive COVID-19 test. The deaths bring the total death toll in B.C. from the virus to 3,788.

 — Cheryl Chan

After declaring 7th wave, Quebec reports 17 more COVID-19 deaths

Quebec is reporting 17 more COVID-19 deaths and a 15-patient rise in hospitalizations today, one day after health officials formally declared the province was into a seventh wave of COVID-19.

The Health Department says there are 1,549 people hospitalized with the disease after 186 patients were admitted and 171 were discharged.

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There are 41 people listed in intensive care, a decline of two patients.

Authorities report 1,597 new cases through limited PCR testing, and more than 7,300 health network staff are off the job because of the virus.

Quebec has had 15,663 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, the most of any province.

On Thursday, Quebec public health director Dr. Luc Boileau confirmed the province had entered another wave of COVID-19, but officials stopped short of imposing new measures and instead urged people to get a vaccine booster.

— The Canadian Press

Dix says B.C. is in a new wave because of Omicron variants as hospitalizations rise

As the number of infections and hospitalizations continue to rise, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday that B.C. is in the third Omicron wave of the COVID pandemic.

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Dix wasn’t available for comment about the latest surge in infections in B.C. that is mirroring what is happening in Central Canada and other countries, but he confirmed in a CBC interview the province is in a new wave.

Later in the day, the province released its weekly COVID numbers showing a 35 per cent jump over last week in the number of people in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19, to 369 from 273. About 10 per cent were in critical care. It is the first time since early May that hospitalizations had increased.

In the week ending July 2, 24 people died within 30 days of a positive COVID-19 test.

And there were 765 reported COVID cases, up from 620 the week before. The number of infections do not reflect the true number of cases because PCR testing is limited in B.C. and it doesn’t include results of at-home tests.

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Read the full story here.

— Susan Lazaruk

Ontario considering expanding COVID-19 booster shots to all adults amid seventh wave

Ontario is considering expanding eligibility for fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines to people under 60 years of age and that decision is expected to come early next week, the province’s top doctor said Thursday.

Ontario has been under pressure to expand eligibility for fourth doses of a COVID-19 vaccine beyond people aged 60 and older, immunocompromised people and Indigenous populations, as Quebec has done. That province has opened up eligibility to all adults.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said in an interview with The Canadian Press that he anticipates news on that will come next week on “both whether and how” to expand the rollout.

“Yes, the government’s considering opening up eligibility further,” he said. “If you’re 59 and under you may be eligible in the future for a second booster dose.”

But he said he is most concerned about the number of people who have not had a third dose yet.

— The Canadian Press

What are B.C.’s current public health measures?

MASKS: Masks are not required in public indoor settings though individual businesses and event organizers can choose to require them.

Masks are also encouraged but not required on board public transit and B.C. Ferries, though they are still required in federally regulated travel spaces such as trains, airports and airplanes, and in health care settings.

GATHERINGS AND EVENTS: There are currently no restrictions on gatherings and events such as personal gatherings, weddings, funerals, worship services, exercise and fitness activities, and swimming pools.There are also no restrictions or capacity limits on restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs; and no restrictions on sport activities.

CARE HOMES: There are no capacity restrictions on visitors to long-term care and seniors’ assisted living facilities, however, visitors must show proof of vaccination before visiting. Exemptions are available for children under the age of 12, those with a medical exemption, and visitors attending for compassionate visits related to end-of-life.

Visitors to seniors’ homes are also required to take a rapid antigen test before visiting the facility or be tested on arrival. Exemptions to testing are available for those attending for compassionate visits or end-of-life care.

How do I get vaccinated in B.C.?

Everyone who is living in B.C. and eligible for a vaccine can receive one by following these steps:

• Get registered online at to book an appointment in your community.
• Or, if you prefer, you can get registered and then visit a drop-in clinic in your health authority.
• The system will alert you when it is time to go for your second dose.
• The same system will also alert you when it is time for your booster dose.

Where can I get a COVID-19 test?

TESTING CENTRES: B.C.’s COVID-19 test collection centres are currently only testing those with symptoms who are hospitalized, pregnant, considered high risk or live/work with those who are high risk. You can find a testing centre using the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s testing centre map.

If you have mild symptoms, you do not need a test and should stay home until your fever is gone. Those without symptoms do not need a test.

TAKE-HOME RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS: Eligible British Columbians over the age of 18 with a personal health number can visit a pharmacy to receive a free take-home test kit containing five COVID-19 rapid antigen tests.

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