Here’s your update with everything you need to know about the COVID situation in B.C. and around the world for the week of Feb. 9-16. This page will be updated with the latest COVID news and related research developments daily throughout the week, 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 weekly B.C. figures given on Feb. 9:
• Hospitalized cases: 188 (down 16)
• Intensive care: 25 (up two)
• New cases: 278 over seven days
• Total number of confirmed cases: 395,367
• Total deaths over seven days: 20 (total 5,139)
Read the full report here | Next update: Feb. 16
U.S. backs Moderna, says government should face COVID-19 vaccine lawsuit
The U.S. government should face a patent lawsuit over COVID-19 vaccines, not vaccine maker Moderna Inc, the Department of Justice told a Delaware federal court on Tuesday.
The Justice Department’s court filing said the United States should be liable for any infringement of Arbutus Biopharma Corp and Genevant Sciences GmbH’s patents that took place under Moderna’s contract to provide shots for the government’s nationwide vaccination effort.
Moderna made the same argument last year in an unsuccessful bid to win an early dismissal of the lawsuit.
Read the full story here.
COVID supports helped lift thousands of B.C. kids out of poverty: report
Child poverty rates dropped during 2020, thanks to supports provided by various levels of government during the COVID pandemic, according to the latest B.C. Child Poverty Report Card, which is produced annually by the First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Society.
But advocates are now concerned that the removal of those supports, and recent high rates of inflation, may reverse the trend, putting children and youth at risk.
Data from the report shows that 40,600 fewer children were living in poverty in 2020 than in 2019, when 94 per cent of B.C. families were receiving some kind of government pandemic benefit. Despite the drop, the report found that some 116,500 children (under 18 years old) lived in poor households in 2020.
Overall, 13.3 per cent of children in B.C. live in poverty, a slightly lower rate than the rest of Canada, which sits at 13.5 per cent.
Read the full story here.
— Denise Ryan
House Republicans are kicking off an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 by requesting documents and testimony from current and former Biden administration officials.
The Republican chairmen of the House Oversight Committee and the Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic are seeking information, including from Dr. Anthony Fauci, concerning the idea that the coronavirus leaked accidentally from a Chinese lab.
“This investigation must begin with where and how this virus came about so that we can attempt to predict, prepare or prevent it from happening again,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, chair of the virus subcommittee, said in a statement on Monday.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., chairman of the oversight committee, said Republicans will “follow the facts” and “hold U.S. government officials that took part in any sort of cover-up accountable.”
The letters to Fauci, National Intelligence Director Avril Haines, Health Secretary Xavier Beccera and others are the latest effort by the new Republican majority to make good on promises made during the 2022 midterms campaign.
— The Associated Press
Vancouver park board expected to end contractor vaccine policy
The Vancouver park board will decide on Monday night whether to drop a policy that bans contractors from doing any park board work if they are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to a staff report, in October 2021 the City of Vancouver decided all workers and volunteers at city and park board operated facilities should be vaccinated against COVID-19 — the pandemic-rated virus that appeared in B.C. in January 2020 and led to a variety of social and economic impacts around the world.
This came as the provincial and federal governments, as well as large private employers and Crown corporations, all outlawed workers who had not been vaccinated. Effectively, if these people did not get vaccinated, they lost their jobs.
In December 2021, the City of Vancouver expanded that law to include city contractors, though this did not apply to park board contractors. On Jan. 7, 2022, the city rule went into effect and the following month the park board voted to expand the policy to cover its contractors.
On Jan. 9, 2023, the city suspended its vaccination policy for all city and parks board staff and volunteers and for city contractors. The park board report being voted on Monday states the park board should suspend its contractor vaccination policy to align with the City of Vancouver.
— David Carrigg
U.K. queen consort Camilla tests positive for COVID-19
Camilla, Britain’s queen consort, has tested positive for COVID-19 after suffering from cold symptoms, Buckingham Palace said Monday.
The wife of King Charles III cancelled all her engagements this week “and sends her sincere apologies to those who had been due to attend them.”
Camilla, 75, tested positive once before – last year. Both she and the king have been vaccinated.
Charles, 74, previously contracted the coronavirus in March 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic.
— Associated Press
B.C. officials say number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations down
The B.C. CDC says over the last week the numbers of daily new cases decreased, while the number of hospital admissions has also gone down by 16 to 188.
The number of new critical care admissions was relatively stable, according to the agency, while the average number of fatalities ranged from three to seven deaths per day.
‘Overwhelmed’ pandemic puppy breeders flooding shelters with pets, says B.C. SPCA
SPCA care centres across B.C. are dealing with an influx of puppies and dogs from a bunch of breeders who began operating during the pandemic.
Several shelters in the Interior recently took in 21 healthy golden retrievers, including 17 puppies, the latest in an influx of dogs.
“The B.C. SPCA is dealing with a record number of large-scale intakes of dogs and puppies, as individuals who set up breeding operations during COVID are closing down their operations,” says Eileen Drever, senior officer for protection and stakeholder relations at the SPCA.
“People were very keen to get pets during the isolation of COVID and we saw an increase in the number of people breeding animals during that time,” said Drever. “Now that people are back to work and to their regular routines, the market has dropped off and we are getting calls for help from breeders who are overwhelmed with the number of animals in their care.”
U.S. House votes to end foreign air traveller COVID vaccine requirement
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to end a requirement that most foreign air travelers be vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the few remaining pandemic travel restrictions still in place.
The vote was 227 to 201 with seven Democrats joining Republicans. No Republicans voted against the bill.
The Biden administration in June dropped its requirement that people arriving in the United States by air must test negative for COVID but has not lifted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination requirements for most foreign travellers.
The White House said Tuesday it was opposed to the bill saying the vaccine requirement “has allowed loved ones across the globe to reunite while reducing the spread of COVID-19 and the burdens it places on the health care system in the United States.” It is not clear if the Senate will take up the bill.
The CDC says vaccines continue to be the most important public health tool for fighting COVID-19 and recommends all travellers be vaccinated.
Prominent B.C. anti-vaxxer died of fentanyl overdose, coroner rules
The B.C. Coroners Service has ruled New Westminster anti-vaxxer Makhan Singh Parhar died of an accidental fentanyl overdose at home.
According to the report, Parhar was found dead by family members in the bathroom of his home at 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2021. He was last seen alive at around midnight Nov. 3.
Coroner Damian Balam wrote in his report that Parhar was 48 when he died.
“Upon physical examination at the scene by the attending coroner, Mr. Parhar was found lying on the floor. There was no observable traumatic injury, evidence of foul play, or evidence of acute self harm. Paraphernalia commonly associated with illicit substance use was found nearby (uncapped syringe, burnt spoon, glass pipe),” Balam wrote.
The coroner’s report puts to bed a myth that Parhar died from COVID-19, which was based on statements he made on social media a few days before his death that he wasn’t feeling well.
Read the full story here.
— Staff Reporter
New York mayor ending COVID vaccine mandate for city workers
New York Mayor Eric Adams said on Monday that he was lifting a controversial COVID-19 vaccine mandate for municipal workers and the city’s Department of Education employees.
The United States’ largest city by population will also end the vaccination requirements, which began in late 2021, for nonpublic school, early child care, and daycare staff.
The mandate will end on Friday if the decision is ratified, as expected, at the upcoming city Board of Health Meeting, Adams, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Roughly 1,780 former municipal workers who were fired for declining to submit proof that they had taken the vaccine will be able to reapply for their old jobs.
Drug companies face COVID cliff in 2023 as sales set to plummet
Pharmaceutical companies that made billions from the pandemic over the past two years selling vaccines and treatments are now up against a steep COVID cliff and investor pressure to spend their windfalls wisely.
Western drugmakers including Pfizer Inc, BioNTech SE , Moderna Inc, Gilead Sciences Inc, AstraZeneca Plc and Merck & Co are estimated to have brought in about $100 billion in revenue from COVID vaccines and treatments in 2022.
Company and analyst estimates suggest those sales could fall by nearly two-thirds this year due to built up product inventories around the world including in the countries that pay the most. Population immunity from high rates of vaccination and previous infections means that demand for treatments could dip as well.
These companies are used to steep revenue drops known as patent cliffs that occur when their exclusivities on big-selling drugs expire and generic rivals move in, but they strategize for those swings for years.
China’s power in Asia diminished by COVID zero, study shows
China’s standing in the Asia-Pacific has been damaged by its decision to stick with COVID Zero for most of 2022, leaving the U.S. to cement its position as the most influential power in the region, according to an Australian research group.
The Sydney-based Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index for 2023 shows that China registered the greatest decline out of the 26 nations and territories in the report, while strong economic links and defense ties solidified the U.S. as the leading power in the Asia-Pacific.
The index measures power based on 133 indicators across eight core themes, assessing how much sway is held diplomatically, economically and militarily. Overall, U.S. was placed first, followed by China, Japan, India and Russia.
Susannah Patton, project lead for the Asia Power Index at Lowy, said China’s score had dipped across almost every indicator, as the country’s connections with the rest of Asia declined “sharply” during COVID zero.
“We’ve heard about the economic impact of China’s border closures but this really shows us for the first time I think the strategic impact of the border closures,” she said.
Even as the pandemic abates, some issues are still lingering, with some who need blood transfusions appealing to hospitals and Canada’s blood supplier with the request that they receive blood from unvaccinated donors.
The requests are based on unfounded beliefs about vaccine “tainted” blood that have percolated among skeptics and conspiracy theorists, but they highlight the ongoing tensions over vaccination, even as the world moves into year four of COVID.
The true number of inquiries for “unvaccinated” blood is difficult to pin down. Canadian Blood Services said it has received a limited number, but would not say how many, and when the National Post reached out to half a dozen hospitals and hospital networks, most did not respond to requests to comment.
Still, reports of people refusing blood from vaccinated donors appear to figure in to what some have called a “clean blood” movement, driven by misinformation and some alternative-medicine practitioners. “Pure blood” has become a bio description on dating apps, while Agence France-Presse reports that a Swiss naturopath is working to create supplies of “mRNA-free” blood, worldwide. Canada is among the countries where Zurich-based George Della Pietra is hoping to establish a presence.
— The National Post
The Quebec-based biopharmaceutical firm that produced a COVID-19 vaccine is being shut down by parent company Mitsubishi Chemical.
The Japanese chemical company said Thursday it would stop marketing the Medicago-produced Covifenz vaccine, which is plant-based and was approved by Health Canada one year ago for adults aged 18 to 64.
Mitsubishi Chemical said it had been preparing to commercially produce the Covifenz vaccine but decided against doing so because of the “significant changes” in the COVID-19 vaccine environment.
The company said it would dissolve Medicago because it is no longer “viable” to continue marketing its products.
— 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 gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated 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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