The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Dec. 8

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, met with National Health Service staff at Royal Berkshire Hospital on Tuesday in Reading, England. The Royal couple paid tribute to the efforts of staff throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. (Matthew Childs/WPA/Getty Images)

U.K. begins mass vaccination program, using Pfizer COVID-19 doses

Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, received a vaccination shot at 6:31 a.m. local time on Tuesday at Britain’s University Hospital Coventry, one of several hospitals handling the start of a COVID-19 immunization effort in the United Kingdom.

The U.K. is the first Western country to start a mass vaccination program, after British regulators last week authorized the use of a COVID-19 shot developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. The stakes are high in Britain, where more than 61,500 deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus.

Keenan, a former shop clerk, was enthusiastic about getting jabbed.

“I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Keenan, who wore a surgical mask and a blue Merry Christmas T-shirt decorated with a cartoon penguin wearing a Santa hat. “It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for, because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”

Britain has received 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to vaccinate 400,000 people. The first shots will go to people over 80 who are either hospitalized or already have outpatient appointments scheduled, along with nursing home workers and vaccination staff.

The government is targeting more than 25 million people, or about 40 per cent of the population, in the first phase of its vaccination program, which gives first priority to those who are at highest risk from the disease.

Britain is the first country to deliver a broadly tested and independently reviewed vaccine to the general public. Russia and China have both already started giving domestically produced vaccine candidates to their populations, though they have done so before final safety and efficacy trials have been completed.

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IN BRIEF

Manitoba extends COVID-19 restrictions through holidays, into 2021

The premier of Manitoba and the province’s chief medical officer said Tuesday that sweeping COVID-19 restrictions will be extended into the new year, though a number of exemptions have been added to the provincial health order.

Premier Brian Pallister said the orders are working but restrictions are still needed.

“You’re beginning to make a difference, and that is critical as we move forward,” Pallister said, addressing Manitobans. “This is not a victory lap. These numbers are not sustainable … but Manitobans need to know that what they’ve done has helped.”

The announcement came just shy of a month since all of Manitoba was placed under code red, or critical, in the provincial pandemic response system. Even tighter restrictions were brought in starting Nov. 21.

A ban on drive-in church services, which some churches have flouted recently in defiance of health orders, will be lifted. Worshippers aren’t allowed to leave their vehicles, and vehicles should only carry members of the same household, said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer.

Manitoba on Tuesday announced 13 more deaths attributable to the coronavirus, 245 new cases and a provincial test positivity rate of 13.3 per cent.

Manitoba becomes the latest province to extend restrictions into 2021, following a similar action by British Columbia on Monday.

Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba

Ontario plans to employ proof-of-vaccination cards

Ontario is planning to issue some kind of proof-of-vaccination card to those who receive their shots, the province’s health minister said Tuesday.

“That will be very important for people to have, for travel purposes and perhaps work purposes or going to theatres or cinemas or any other places where people will be in close physical contact when we get through the worst of the pandemic,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott.

“So yes, that will be essential for people to have that,” she added.

While getting vaccinated is voluntary, the province is also working on technology that allows it to track who has received their two doses of the vaccine, it was revealed Tuesday. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, considered at the front of the line for regulatory approvals in North America, require two doses to maximize their efficacy.

There are currently about 16,161 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 province-wide, the most at any point during the pandemic.

While the daily case number reported on Tuesday was moderately lower than the previous two days, the province is dealing with a testing backlog. Ontario’s network of labs processed 39,198 test samples for the novel coronavirus, with another 40,732 tests in the queue waiting to be completed. The test positivity rate was 5 per cent, the health ministry said.

Read more about the situation in Ontario

700 families wait for children’s health services at Toronto hospital due to pandemic backlog

The spillover effects to health care because of the pandemic are being felt at the largest children’s rehab facility in Canada, with autism programs, wheelchair seating services and fittings for orthotics and prosthetics all being impacted, CBC News has learned.

Currently, more than 700 Ontario families are waiting for key services at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto. Staff at the hospital say a halt on services in the early months of the pandemic has left medical teams struggling to play catch-up, with current wait times of months or even a year or more.

Holland Bloorview says it may not be able to hit clinically accepted wait time for orthotics and prosthetic appointments of 30 days for another 12 months.

“It’s having a huge impact on clients’ and family’s lives,” said Lindsey Crawford, senior director of ambulatory care services at Holland Bloorview.

Ivona Novak is one of those parents. Her son Noah, 5, has already battled cancer of the spinal cord in his short life. The boy is overdue for an appointment to obtain medication to help strengthen his bones after already experiencing multiple fractures, as well as the next round of his regular botox injections.

“It’s really frustrating because you think that you have this whole support network of family, friends and health care workers, and something like COVID comes along and it really pulls the rug right from under you,” Novak told CBC’s Lauren Pelley.

The facility is trying to conduct as many virtual appointments as possible while Ontario’s COVID numbers remain high, but that’s not possible in serious cases like Noah’s.

The Children’s Health Coalition — a collective of children’s health organizations, including both SickKids and Holland Bloorview — has estimated that more than 30,000 pediatric procedures and appointments at children’s hospitals across the province have been cancelled, with some kids now facing waits of up to two and a half years for surgery.

The group has called for $375 million in provincial investments for children’s health and social care to tackle the backlog, but provincial officials haven’t committed to new funding.

Read more about the impact the virus is causing

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

Further data released from Pfizer vaccine trials appears to pave the way for imminent U.S. regulatory approval

Documents released by U.S. regulators Tuesday, two days before what will be a highly anticipated public advisory hearing, confirmed that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine was strongly protective against COVID-19.

Food and Drug Administration staff noted that more data would be needed to assess the potential of a single-dose shot from Pfizer. It said that the efficacy after the first dose and before the second one was around 52 per cent, while a two-dose vaccination was highly effective in preventing confirmed cases of COVID-19 at least seven days after the last dose.

The FDA staff also said that available data, while limited, suggested the people who had been previously infected with the novel coronavirus could benefit from vaccination. Very few cases of confirmed COVID-19 occurred among participants with evidence of infection prior to vaccination, though more of those that did were in the placebo group than the vaccine group, the staff said. Several other questions remain, some of which may still be answered, as study volunteers are monitored for two years.

There were a total of six deaths in the 44,000-person trial: two of them among those who got the vaccine and the other four in those who received a placebo, the documents showed. All deaths represent events that occur in the general population at a similar rate, FDA staff said. Some recipients experienced flu-like reactions — including fever, fatigue or muscle aches — especially after the required second dose.

On Thursday, a panel of independent scientists will pick apart the FDA’s first-pass review before recommending whether the vaccine appears safe and effective enough for millions of Americans. The panel then votes on a recommendation that is not binding, although the FDA typically follows the committee’s advice.

Government officials in Ottawa have said they don’t anticipate that regulatory approval in Canada for the Pfizer vaccine would lag significantly behind a green light in the U.S.

AND FINALLY…

Windsor restaurant donates to hospital after customers chip in following mask dispute, lawsuit threat

Thai Palace donated $4,000 to Windsor Regional Hospital’s COVID-19 fund on Monday. (Submitted by Thai Palace)

Windsor restaurant owners Renu and Charles Anderson have donated $4,000 to their local hospital system as a way of giving back to the community that they said rallied behind them when a customer threatened legal action.

It all started in October, after the Thai Palace restaurant the Andersons own refused service to a customer who wouldn’t wear a mask at its walk-up takeout window.

Soon after, they were threatened with legal action by a local law firm, alleging discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The letter from the firm indicated the matter could be settled for $20,000.

As a result, the Andersons went public with the development, and received donations, phone calls, emails — and new business.

“We have lots of overwhelming support from locals, community,” said Renu Anderson. “[The money is] for the supports that we get even from the hospital, even from front-line staff, everybody. They always thank us, support us.”

It is not clear what, if anything, is happening with the legal threat, as repeated calls from CBC News to the law firm in question have not been returned.

Meanwhile, Windsor Regional Hospital thanked the restaurant in a Facebook post on Monday.

Read more about the donation 

Find out more about COVID-19

Still looking for more information on the pandemic? Read more about COVID-19’s impact on life in Canada, or reach out to us at covid@cbc.ca if you have any questions.

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

For full coverage of how your province or territory is responding to COVID-19, visit your local CBC News site.

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