Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario could be headed to third lockdown due to variants, projections show; Health Canada preparing for quick approval of boosters: chief medical adviser

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Thursday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.7:25 a.m. Françoise Cabau moved to Canada in January 2020, planning to open a business with her husband in Niagara, Ontario.Those plans were foiled by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic so Cabau, who has French and Canadian citizenship, started applying for jobs to stay afloat — at Starbucks, at a winery, for various assistant positions and more.But she found the job search difficult for many reasons. For one, the pandemic had an impact on many of the businesses she was applying to work for. But Cabau also found that the language barrier (French is her first language) and her qualifications limited the jobs she was able to apply for.Meanwhile, her husband also struggled to find work in his field of computer science. And because neither earned income in Canada in 2019, both were unable to access federal funding and ended up getting Ontario Works, which, Cabau says, is only just keeping them afloat.Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba7:20 a.m. The European Medicines Agency has started a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, many months after it was first approved for use in Russia and after dozens of countries around the world have authorized it.In a statement Thursday, the European regulator said the review is based on results from lab studies and research in adults, which suggests the vaccine may help protect against the coronavirus.Despite skepticism about Russia’s hasty introduction of the vaccine, which was rolled out before it had completed late-stage trials, the vaccine appears to be safe and effective. According to a study published last month in the journal Lancet, Sputnik V is 91% effective and appears to prevent inoculated individuals from becoming severely ill with COVID-19, although it’s still unclear if the vaccine can prevent the spread of the disease.With a global shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, some experts say boosting the use of vaccines made by China and Russia — which have not been as in demand as those made by Western companies — could offer a quicker way to increase the global supply. The pandemic has already infected over 115 million people, killing over 2.5 million of them, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.The EMA has so far approved three COVID-19 vaccines for use across the 27-nation European Union: shots made by Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. It could license a fourth shot made by Johnson & Johnson at an expert meeting next Thursday.The EMA has not set a date for when its expert group might meet to assess Sputnik V data but the rolling review aims to expedite the authorization process, which can typically take months.Dr. Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, called the EMA announcement on Sputnik V “good news.”5:37 a.m.: The average selling price of a Toronto-area house has seen a double-digit rise in all but two months of the last year. It’s a counterintuitive climb amidst a pandemic that has pushed the cost of a resale home past the million-dollar mark for the first time in history.Detached houses in the 905 suburbs have seen the greatest growth with a near 30 per cent annual gain in February.In Durham Region the average price last February was $685,000. This year, it’s $942,000, said John Pasalis of Toronto’s Realosophy brokerage.“When you see house prices rising by 30 per cent per year, it’s not normal,” he said. “By all objective standards it’s a bubble.”Is there a risk if the market stumbles? That is unlikely this year, say authorities like Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board.Even so, real estate board chief analyst Jason Mercer said the mortgage stress test, introduced to cool a frothy 2017 housing market, should protect consumers if interest rates rise. It requires that borrowers with insured loans can qualify at two per cent above the rate banks are offering.Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski here. 5:34 a.m.: Ontario could soon be headed into a third lockdown to rein in a third wave of COVID-19 driven largely by variants of concern, new projections show.In the worst-case scenario, Ontario could see as many as 5,000 cases per day by early April, mostly made up of new variants, according to modelling by Scarsin Corporation, a Markham, Ont.-based company specializing in disease forecasting for global pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead, Bayer and Jansen.In this scenario, the modelling assumes the population has a high level of pandemic fatigue, leading to more community and workplace spread. This could result in a full or partial lockdown for 45 days or more and stay-at-home orders in some areas as cases increase rapidly in mid-April, said Scarsin CEO Paul Minshull.“In addressing this worst-case scenario, there’s a joint responsibility between how people behave as they

Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario could be headed to third lockdown due to variants, projections show; Health Canada preparing for quick approval of boosters: chief medical adviser

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Thursday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

7:25 a.m. Françoise Cabau moved to Canada in January 2020, planning to open a business with her husband in Niagara, Ontario.

Those plans were foiled by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic so Cabau, who has French and Canadian citizenship, started applying for jobs to stay afloat — at Starbucks, at a winery, for various assistant positions and more.

But she found the job search difficult for many reasons. For one, the pandemic had an impact on many of the businesses she was applying to work for. But Cabau also found that the language barrier (French is her first language) and her qualifications limited the jobs she was able to apply for.

Meanwhile, her husband also struggled to find work in his field of computer science. And because neither earned income in Canada in 2019, both were unable to access federal funding and ended up getting Ontario Works, which, Cabau says, is only just keeping them afloat.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba

7:20 a.m. The European Medicines Agency has started a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, many months after it was first approved for use in Russia and after dozens of countries around the world have authorized it.

In a statement Thursday, the European regulator said the review is based on results from lab studies and research in adults, which suggests the vaccine may help protect against the coronavirus.

Despite skepticism about Russia’s hasty introduction of the vaccine, which was rolled out before it had completed late-stage trials, the vaccine appears to be safe and effective. According to a study published last month in the journal Lancet, Sputnik V is 91% effective and appears to prevent inoculated individuals from becoming severely ill with COVID-19, although it’s still unclear if the vaccine can prevent the spread of the disease.

With a global shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, some experts say boosting the use of vaccines made by China and Russia — which have not been as in demand as those made by Western companies — could offer a quicker way to increase the global supply. The pandemic has already infected over 115 million people, killing over 2.5 million of them, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The EMA has so far approved three COVID-19 vaccines for use across the 27-nation European Union: shots made by Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. It could license a fourth shot made by Johnson & Johnson at an expert meeting next Thursday.

The EMA has not set a date for when its expert group might meet to assess Sputnik V data but the rolling review aims to expedite the authorization process, which can typically take months.

Dr. Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, called the EMA announcement on Sputnik V “good news.”

5:37 a.m.: The average selling price of a Toronto-area house has seen a double-digit rise in all but two months of the last year. It’s a counterintuitive climb amidst a pandemic that has pushed the cost of a resale home past the million-dollar mark for the first time in history.

Detached houses in the 905 suburbs have seen the greatest growth with a near 30 per cent annual gain in February.

In Durham Region the average price last February was $685,000. This year, it’s $942,000, said John Pasalis of Toronto’s Realosophy brokerage.

“When you see house prices rising by 30 per cent per year, it’s not normal,” he said. “By all objective standards it’s a bubble.”

Is there a risk if the market stumbles? That is unlikely this year, say authorities like Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board.

Even so, real estate board chief analyst Jason Mercer said the mortgage stress test, introduced to cool a frothy 2017 housing market, should protect consumers if interest rates rise. It requires that borrowers with insured loans can qualify at two per cent above the rate banks are offering.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski here.

5:34 a.m.: Ontario could soon be headed into a third lockdown to rein in a third wave of COVID-19 driven largely by variants of concern, new projections show.

In the worst-case scenario, Ontario could see as many as 5,000 cases per day by early April, mostly made up of new variants, according to modelling by Scarsin Corporation, a Markham, Ont.-based company specializing in disease forecasting for global pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead, Bayer and Jansen.

In this scenario, the modelling assumes the population has a high level of pandemic fatigue, leading to more community and workplace spread. This could result in a full or partial lockdown for 45 days or more and stay-at-home orders in some areas as cases increase rapidly in mid-April, said Scarsin CEO Paul Minshull.

“In addressing this worst-case scenario, there’s a joint responsibility between how people behave as they go back into red or orange in their local area, and the speed with which the public health units take actions to suppress further acceleration,” Minshull said.

In performing its forecasts, Scarsin considers close to 90 factors, such as business restrictions, school openings and community mobility in addition to variants of concern and citizen behaviour.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kenyon Wallace here.

5:34 a.m.: Regulators in the U.K. and four other countries have announced new rules to fast-track the development of modified COVID-19 vaccines to ensure drugmakers can move swiftly to target emerging variants of the disease.

Previously authorized vaccines that are modified to combat new variants “will not need a brand new approval or ‘lengthy’ clinical studies,” Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said Thursday.

“The clear goal is that future vaccine modifications that respond to the new variants of coronavirus can be made available in the shortest possible time to U.K. recipients without compromising at any stage on safety, quality or effectiveness,” Dr. June Raine, the head of the agency, said in a briefing for reporters.

The new guidance is based on the model already used to modify the seasonal flu vaccine to keep up with annual changes in the virus and was issued jointly by regulators in the U.K., Australia, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency have issued similar guidance.

Under the new rules, developers will be required to provide “robust evidence” that modified COVID-19 vaccines produce a strong immune response to the variant, as well as data showing they are safe and meet quality standards.

5:30 a.m.: A national panel of vaccine experts recommended Wednesday that provinces extend the interval between the two doses of a COVID-19 shot to quickly inoculate more people, as the prime minister expressed optimism that vaccination timelines could be sped up.

In laying out its new guidelines, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization said extending the dose interval to four months would create opportunities to protect the entire adult population against the virus within a short time frame.

The updated guidance applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in Canada.

The committee’s recommendation came hours after Newfoundland and Labrador said it will extend the interval between the first and second doses to four months, and days after health officials in British Columbia announced they were doing so.

Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec also said Wednesday they will delay second doses.

5:30 a.m.: Some employees of a pork processing plant in central Alberta that shut down after a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility are afraid to go back to work, the union president says.

Olymel’s facility in Red Deer was shut down Feb. 15 because of the COVID-19 outbreak that claimed three lives and infected 515 workers.

The company announced late Wednesday it had been given approval to gradually reopen by Alberta Health. Slaughter operations are scheduled to resume today and cutting room operations on Friday. The plant processes about 10,000 hogs per day.

UFCW 401 president Thomas Hesse said he received no word from the company that the plant was reopening.

“Obviously the bottom line for Olymel is they’re just putting pigs ahead of people,” Hesse in an interview Wednesday.

5:30 a.m.: Canada’s chief medical adviser says her department is constantly receiving and reviewing any data on vaccines and COVID-19 variants and will be ready to quickly authorize needed boosters when they’re available.

But Dr. Supriya Sharma said the three vaccines authorized in Canada so far offer excellent protection and, along with public health measures, can help slow the spread of the virus and potentially help stop it from mutating even further.

“We knew this was going to happen, that we would have variants,” she said, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Coronaviruses don’t mutate as quickly as the flu, but do change as they spread among people and the more they spread, the more they change. To that end, Sharma said the slower the spread, the fewer variants we will see.

“So a virus is not going to mutate as much when it can’t replicate,” she said.

There are three variants of concern now identified in Canada, including B.1.1.7, first identified in the United Kingdom, B. 1.351, identified in South Africa, and P. 1, identified in Brazil.

Canada’s authorized vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca, all appear to have very good results against B.1.1.7, which is the most common variant so far found in Canada.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Thursday, March 4, 2021.

In Canada, the provinces are reporting 77,572 new vaccinations administered for a total of 2,091,700 doses given. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 5,519.103 per 100,000.

There were 129,330 new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 2,611,680 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 80.09 per cent of their available vaccine supply.

4 a.m.: The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Thursday, March 4, 2021.

There are 875,559 confirmed cases in Canada (29,930 active, 823,524 resolved, 22,105 deaths). The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers.

There were 2,812 new cases Wednesday. The rate of active cases is 78.75 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 20,365 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 2,909.

There were 60 new reported deaths Wednesday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 299 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 43. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.11 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 58.16 per 100,000 people.

There have been 24,676,396 tests completed.

Source : Toronto Star More