The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Dec. 7

A figurine of a nurse was unveiled Monday outside the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in honour of medical workers who have been battling the coronavirus disease, in Assisi, Italy. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

Trudeau says 249,000 Pfizer vaccine doses to be in Canada this month after anticipated regulatory approval

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that up to 249,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be in Canada sometime this month in order to launch the country’s mass inoculation campaign.

Trudeau said the doses will be delivered by the company directly to 14 distribution centres now equipped with the necessary cold storage the Pfizer vaccine requires, with the number of doses to be distributed proportionate with a province’s share of the population. The vaccine will not be sent to the territories for the time being, as they currently lack the capacity to safely store the Pfizer product.

The announcement comes a day after Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, told CBC News the two companies are prepared to ship vaccine doses to Canada within 24 hours of regulatory approval.

Trudeau said the first shots should arrive next week, if Health Canada gives the product the green light. Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada, has said that regulatory approval could come as soon as this week.

Despite the urgency of the situation, with 12,725 deaths in Canada among over 1.54 million dead globally, Trudeau tried to assure Canadians no corners would be cut before any COVID-19 vaccine is approved.

“The regulatory process is ongoing and experts are working around the clock. They will uphold Canada’s globally recognized gold standard for medical approvals,” he said.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said last week the limited initial quantity of doses should be reserved for people who are most at risk of contracting the virus and developing severe symptoms — elderly residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities, retirement homes and chronic care hospitals, and the staff who care for them. After long-term care home residents and staff are immunized, NACI said the next priority group should be those over the age of 80, although it is ultimately up to the premiers in Canada’s system of federalism to determine the priority groups in their jurisdictions.

Click below to watch more from The National


Shamattawa chief in Manitoba questions scope of military aid for struggling First Nation community

The Canadian Armed Forces announced this week it’s sending service members to support Manitoba’s Shamattawa First Nation, where Chief Eric Redhead said there were 195 confirmed cases among the community’s approximately 1,300 people as of Sunday evening.

Redhead said the First Nation needs urgent help as cases in the community, about 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, have skyrocketed from only a few just two weeks ago. Dozens are now isolating at sites outside the community and about 20 are in quarantine at the community’s gymnasium.

Redhead said he sounded the alarm to the federal government weeks ago and that the six Canadian Rangers being sent to work with the community won’t be enough to get a handle on the situation.

“That’s not what we’ve been requesting. We’ve been requesting medical personnel from the military — their nurses, their doctors — to help with contact tracing, to help with testing,” Redhead said.

“It’s too little, too late.”

The NDP’s Niki Ashton, MP for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, said the federal government needs to listen to what people in the community are saying is needed to combat the spread of the virus.

“The chief and the leadership of the community have been sounding the alarm for days. They knew that the spread was far greater than what the initial numbers [suggested],” she said.

Some community members have been flown to Winnipeg to self-isolate in a hotel amid the rising cases.

Read more about what’s happening in Shamattawa

P.E.I. announces 2 weeks of restrictions to reduce spread of COVID-19

Prince Edward Island announced four new cases of COVID-19, all of persons between the ages of 20 and 39. The four are all close contacts of the seven positive cases announced on the weekend. The source of the outbreak is still not known.

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King has asked all Islanders in the capital region between the ages of 20 and 29 to get tested, even if they have no symptoms. In addition, four high schools moved to remote learning this week in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

King and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison have announced a two-week “circuit-breaker” phase.

Islanders are not permitted during the phase to host any gatherings, go to the gym or dine in at restaurants. Church gatherings, weddings or funerals are to be limited to no more than 10 people. The full specifics of the circuit breaker can be found here

“The sharp increase in cases in the past 36 hours and the fact there is no connection to recent out-of-province travel is concerning,” Morrison said. “This situation does suggest there is community spread of COVID-19 in P.E.I.”

Read more about the situation in P.E.I.

Ontario records highest 7-day case average, releases priority vaccination groups

Ontario Premier Doug Ford released his province’s priority list for vaccinations today, which closely tracks advice from a national advisory group. Residents and staff in “congregate-care settings,” such as long-term care homes and retirement homes will get priority as long as they’re located in one of Ontario’s “red zones,” such as Toronto or Peel Region — that is, places where rising caseloads have led to more stringent restrictions on commerce and public gatherings.

Health-care workers and hospital employees in the red zones will be also among the first to be inoculated. Roughly 85,000 doses will be available in Ontario this month, said retired Gen. Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force.

Hillier said that because of temperature constraints, the vaccine cannot be easily transported between distribution centres and individual long-term care and retirement homes.

“When we know we can move it, we want to get to those most vulnerable people first,” Hillier said.

Staff may have to be vaccinated first at central inoculation sites, he said, given the difficulty involved in moving long-term care residents around.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said that 21 Ontario hospitals have been identified as potential storage sites.

Meanwhile, the Middlesex-London, Thunder Bay and Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District public health units were all bumped to a more restrictive pandemic category as the province grapples with a seven-day average of daily cases of 1,820, the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic.

The number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbed to 725, with 213 being treated in intensive care and 121 requiring the use of a ventilator. There were a further 26 deaths associated with COVID-19, pushing the pandemic-long total to 3,798.

Read more about what’s happening in Ontario 

(CBC News)

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.


How the vaccine approval process works, and what’s different during a pandemic

The pandemic has shone a light on a government-regulated process few Canadians might be familiar with, namely, how vaccines are approved in this country.

Vaccine manufacturers submit to Health Canada all the scientific data that they have, which includes any kind of lab data that demonstrates how the vaccine works, any kind of clinical trial data that they have obtained, along with Phase 1 to Phase 3 clinical trial data.

One vaccine submission is hundreds of thousands of pages long and can take, on average around 2,000 person hours to review, said Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser to Health Canada. Reviewers must confirm there are no significant safety concerns, determine that the vaccine is able to prompt an adequate immune response in vaccinated people and show that it can protect against disease, she said.

For manufacturing facilities around the world, not just for vaccines, but for medications as well, Health Canada has entered into mutual recognition agreements with other regulators to make sure Canadian standards are being met.

Every facility that manufactures vaccines needs to have an inspection by Health Canada before it’s licensed, while ongoing inspections take place to make sure standards are maintained.

With COVID-19, Health Canada has accepted what’s known as a “rolling submission.”

“The new process allows for a company to start an application process, submit the information that they have available, as of that date and add new data and new information as it becomes available,” said John Greiss, a Toronto-based intellectual property lawyer with Norton Rose Fulbright, who advises companies in the life sciences sector.

For COVID-19, Health Canada is employing specialized teams of seven to 12 people who have experience in areas like toxicology, infectious diseases, clinical medicine, microbiology and epidemiology to review the vaccine.

Greiss said typically there’s a “back and forth” between Health Canada and the vaccine manufacturer in order to fully appreciate and analyze the data. With the public greatly interested in the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine in Canada — which could potentially be days away — the regulators are trying to apply the same amount of rigour as always to what is now an intensely watched process.


How cooking World War II recipes can help us understand the pandemic

The Sunday Magazine host Piya Chattopadhyay attempted a Second World War-era shortbread recipe for herself. (Supplied by Piya Chattopadhyay)

During the current pandemic, people across the globe have found solace in cooking. Similarly, and in spite of limited resources, food was vital during the Second World War to getting families through unprecedented times.

This sense of community is adding a new dimension to a project at the Parkwood Estate Museum in Oshawa, Ont. Volunteers with War In The Kitchen have been cooking their way through recipes published in the Toronto Star from 1939 to 1945 since last year, in an effort to better understand wartime Canada.

The museum’s curator and culinary historian Samantha George observes how simple recipes and food parcels created a sense of home even for families divided by global conflict.

“It’s the fact that someone’s making them for you,” said George. “Thinking about you. Packing them up and sending them. So even though you’re thousands of miles apart, you’re still in someone’s heart.”

The recipes published include simple shortbread, as well as date cakes — also known as “dark secrets.” These recipes would have been sent to soldiers fighting abroad in 1940.

Listen to the segment on Second World War recipes 

Find out more about COVID-19

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If you have symptoms of the illness caused by the coronavirus, here’s what to do in your part of the country.

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