December 8, 2023

New studies bolster theory novel coronavirus emerged from the wild

Two new studies provide more evidence that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a Wuhan, China market where live animals were sold — further bolstering the theory that the virus emerged in the wild rather than escaping from a Chinese lab.

The research, published online Tuesday by the journal Science, shows that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was likely the early epicentre of the scourge that has now killed nearly 6.4 million people around the world. Scientists conclude that the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, likely spilled from animals into people two separate times.

“All this evidence tells us the same thing: It points right to this particular market in the middle of Wuhan,” said Kristian Andersen, a professor in the department of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and co-author of one of the studies. “I was quite convinced of the lab leak myself until we dove into this very carefully and looked at it much closer.”

Read the full story here.

— The Associated Press

Project tracking COVID-19 in Canadian long-term care paused due to lack of data

A think tank that’s been compiling data on COVID-19 in Canadian long-term care homes says it has to stop its work because provinces are no longer making enough information public about the spread of the virus in the sector.
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The project run by the National Institute on Ageing, based at Toronto Metropolitan University, launched in April 2020 and presents information about cases, outbreaks and deaths at long-term care homes in the form of a map, with a summary for each province and territory.

It has provided data to organizations including the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information and has contributed to national and international research on COVID-19 in a sector that’s seen a large portion of Canada’s deaths due to the virus.

But provinces have been sharing less data on outbreaks and cases since the start of this year and information is being made publicly available with far less frequency than in the past. The situation has reached a point where it’s now too difficult to keep the think tank’s project alive, said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the institute.

—The Canadian Press

Airport COVID measures derail Israeli terror survivors’ trip to Canada’s Wonderland

A group of Israeli summer campers, all victims of terrorist violence, had to spend the first day of a charity-sponsored trip to Canada on Wednesday scrambling to meet a COVID test deadline instead of visiting Canada’s Wonderland, after nearly half of the 33 children were selected for random testing at the Toronto airport, organizers say.

“We wake up to 15 emails, telling 15 of the kids they need to go get tested,” a charity organizer said.

The rules under the federal government’s newly implemented off-site random COVID testing program for international arrivals require that anyone selected for random screening must complete the tests by midnight the next day.

The situation was made even more complex as the children aren’t English speakers and were billeted with families across the Greater Toronto Area, forcing organizers to drive to various points around the city Wednesday to help the kids meet the impending deadline. That meant cancelling Wednesday’s already-paid-for excursions to Niagara Falls and Canada’s Wonderland, with organizers spending the day instead helping the 15 campers fill out paperwork and find a LifeLabs location willing to test them all at once.

—Bryan Passifiume

COVID-19 vaccine bookings for babies and toddlers open in Ontario

Ontario parents can book COVID-19 vaccine appointments for their babies and preschoolers starting today.

The province’s booking portal opened for pediatric vaccine appointments for children aged six months to under five years at 8 a.m.

Families can also make appointments through health units using their own booking systems as well as some primary care providers and pharmacies.

Clinics for the youngest age group are scheduled to ramp up across the province in the coming days and some are planning to host appointments today.

Toronto Public Health says it expects to start administering shots to babies and toddlers today and some pharmacies are also in position to start vaccinating.

—The Canadian Press

Long COVID symptoms include sexual dysfunction, hair loss: Study

Add loss of hair and libido to the symptoms associated with long COVID, U.K. researchers warn.

They compared nearly half a million people who recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infections before the middle of April 2021, without having been hospitalized, with nearly two million uninfected people of similar age, gender and health status.

Overall, 62 persistent symptoms were significantly associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection after 12 weeks, the researchers reported on Monday in Nature Medicine.

Among the most common were shortness of breath, smell distortions, chest pain and fever, but the study also identified memory problems, inability to perform familiar movements or commands, bowel incontinence, erectile dysfunction, hallucinations, and limb swelling as being more common in people with long COVID.

Read the full storyhere.

— Reuters

As kids under five start getting COVID-19 vaccines, Quebec urged to change messaging

MONTREAL — A pediatrician at a children’s hospital in Montreal said Monday the government needs to do more to promote the benefits of vaccinating young children against COVID-19.

As Quebec’s vaccination campaign opened to kids aged six months to five years, Dr. Olivier Drouin said the message from health officials is ambiguous and leaves parents unsure what to do.

“Parents have been told since the beginning of the pandemic that children don’t get sick,” Drouin, a doctor at Montreal’s CHU Sainte-Justine, said in an interview. “So, why would they need to vaccinate them?”

The government’s message, he said, has been focused too much on reducing the risk of infection in children. That’s a mistake, he said. “The message needs to switch from lowering the risk of infection to lowering the severity of it.”

Read the full story here.

—The Canadian Press

Omicron BA.5 makes up 82% of COVID variants in U.S.: CDC

The BA.5 subvariant of Omicron was estimated to make up 81.9% of the circulating coronavirus variants in the United States for the week ended July 23, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.

This was higher than the 75.9% prevalence estimated in the preceding week.

BA.5 has been driving a surge of new infections globally and has shown to be particularly good at evading the immune protection afforded either by vaccination or prior infection.

Omicron subvariant BA.4 was estimated to make up 12.9% of the circulating variants in the United States, the data showed.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

 Australia’s COVID hospital admissions, deaths rise as variant surges

Hospital admissions for COVID-19 in Australia have reached a new high for a second straight day, data showed on Tuesday, while the daily death toll rose to its second-highest as an outbreak fueled by a coronavirus sub-variant sweeps the country.

Nearly 5,600 patients infected with COVID are in hospital while 100 new deaths were reported, just short of a record 102 deaths on Saturday. Nearly 330,000 infections have been reported over the last seven days but authorities say the real numbers could be double that.

“It’s time to come together again and fight: get vaccinated, use a mask in crowds and indoors, and stay home if you’re sick,” said the premier of hard-hit Queensland state, Annastacia Palaszczuk.

The COVID flare-up is being driven by the highly infectious BA.4/5 Omicron sub-variant, and it is putting severe pressure on hospitals and retirement homes.
— Reuters

Calls from travellers, experts to ditch ArriveCan app grow despite glitch fix

Calls to scrap the ArriveCan app continue from experts in medicine and technology as well as travellers, even after the federal government fixed a technical glitch that instructed some users to quarantine unnecessarily..

While the defect was fixed last Wednesday, social media platforms are replete with posts from passengers complaining the app as a whole is not user-friendly.

The union representing border services agents estimates some 30 per cent of border crossers haven’t completed it, prolonging traveller processing times amid an already chaotic travel season.“We’re so short-staffed and spending so much time dealing with this app that we really don’t have time to do our actual jobs anymore,” Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said in an interview.

Read the full story here.

— The Canadian Press

U.S. President Biden ‘feeling great’ and close to return to normal activities

U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday said he was “feeling great,” as he recovers from COVID-19, and that he expected to end his isolation and return to normal working conditions by the end of the week.
Biden held a virtual event with semiconductor manufacturers and several top administration officials to promote legislation aimed at boosting chip production in the United States. His voice was raspy but he seemed otherwise in good health.“I’m feeling great. I’ve had two full nights of sleep,” said Biden, who tested positive for the coronavirus last Thursday and has been treated with the antiviral drug Paxlovid.

Read the full story here.

— Reuters

‘Never seen a virus that behaves this way’: Why COVID refuses to give us a break

Two and a half years into the COVID mess, yet another immunity-dodging viral variant is driving a seventh wave of infections — even though half the country’s population, more than 17 million people, were infected with Omicron between December and May, and despite more than 80 per cent of the population having received at least two doses of a vaccine.

“As much as all of us would love the pandemic to be over we are seeing changes in the virus that continue to make this extremely challenging,” said Dr. Fahad Razak, an internist at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and the new scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table.Hospitalizations are creeping up in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta. Cases have tripled and hospitalization rates have doubled across parts of Europe in the past two weeks. California is being slammed by a “stunning” summer wave. Australians are being urged to work from home as COVID cases swamp hospitals. “The virus is running freely,” the World Health Organization recently warned.

Read the full story here.

—Sharon Kirkey, National Post

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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