Here’s your daily update with everything you need to know on the COVID-19 situation in B.C. and around the world for May 5, 2022.
We’ll provide summaries of what’s going on right here so you can get the latest news at a glance. This page will be updated regularly throughout the day, with developments added as they happen, so be sure to check back often.
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• According B.C.’s weekly COVID-19 update, the number of people in hospital with the virus dropped slightly, while the number of deaths increased.
• A B.C. judge has dismissed a bid by Dr. Bonnie Henry to have a legal challenge to several of her COVID-19 health orders thrown out of court.
• The Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus is intrinsically as severe as previous variants, according to a large U.S. study.
• The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it is limiting the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for adults due to the risk of a rare blood clotting syndrome.
• Canadians’ movements, including trips to the liquor store and pharmacy, were closely tracked through their mobile phones without their knowledge during the COVID-19 pandemic, a report shows.
• Alberta doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists will now be allowed to prescribe the COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid, in a bid to make the drug more readily accessible.
• Almost three times as many died as a result of COVID than officially reported, according to the World Health Organization.
• The European Union’s drug regulator is hoping to have vaccines adapted to address coronavirus variants, such as Omicron, approved by September.
• Quebec is offering a fourth dose (or second booster) of the COVID-19 vaccine to anyone 18 and over. The province also announced it will end its mask mandate for indoor public spaces on May 14.
• Unknown number of reporters catch COVID after White House Correspondents’ Dinner
• Moderna Inc. is forecasting higher vaccine sales for the second half of the year, as it expects the virus that causes COVID-19 to follow a more seasonal pattern requiring booster shots in the fall.
• Beijing is shutting scores of metro stations and bus routes, and extended other COVID-19 curbs, as it focuses efforts to avoid the fate of Shanghai.
Hospitalizations fall while deaths increase
The number of people in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19 dropped slightly, while the number of deaths increased, according to the latest data shared by health officials.
A total of 550 people were in hospital with coronavirus, 20 cases less than the previous round of updates. The number of deaths over a seven-day period, however, increased from 42 to 50 between April 24 to 30.
As of the latest data released on May 5, there had been a total of 365,577 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in B.C. since the pandemic started more than two years earlier.
Court rejects bid by B.C. government to throw out case against vaccination orders
A judge has dismissed a bid by Dr. Bonnie Henry to have a legal challenge to several of her COVID-19 health orders thrown out of court.
The petition filed by an advocacy group argues the provincial health officer’s orders requiring vaccinations for health care workers are unconstitutional and should be set aside.
The Canadian Society for the Advancement of Science in Public Policy also alleges the orders fail to provide reasonable exemptions and accommodations for people with religious objections, vaccination risks, immunity from prior injection and recent negative COVID testing.
Lawyers for Henry say that the orders are reasonable measures aimed at limiting transmission in high-risk public settings, protecting public health and vulnerable populations, and safeguarding the health-care system.
The orders, implemented in mid-October, say only double-vaccinated people may provide services in a range of B.C. health-care settings.
Read the full story here.
— Keith Fraser
Omicron as severe as previous COVID variants, large study finds
The Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus is intrinsically as severe as previous variants, according to a preprint version of a large U.S. study that counters assumptions in other studies that it was more transmissible but less severe.
The findings, which estimated Omicron’s severity after accounting for the impact of vaccines, should reinforce the importance of inoculations and booster shots, experts said. Vaccines helped keep hospitalizations and deaths relatively low during the Omicron surge compared with previous variants.
The study, which is undergoing peer review at Nature Portfolio, was posted on Research Square on May 2. The authors, from Massachusetts General Hospital, Minerva University and Harvard Medical School, declined to comment until peer review is completed.
“We found that the risks of hospitalization and mortality were nearly identical” between the Omicron era and times in the past two years when different variants were dominant, the researchers said in their report.
Read the full story here.
U.S. limits use of J&J’s COVID vaccine on blood clot risks
The U.S. health regulator said on Thursday it was limiting the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for adults due to the risk of a rare blood clotting syndrome, the latest setback to the shot that has been eclipsed by rivals.
The J&J shot, which received U.S. clearance in February 2021 for adults, can be administered in cases where authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccines are not accessible or if an individual is less keen on using the other two shots, the Food and Drug Administration said.
J&J is one of the three vaccines in use in the United States. The other two are from Moderna and Pfizer .
Use of the J&J shot has been weak in high-income countries, hurt by reports of rare, potentially deadly blood clots, production issues, including an accidental mix-up of ingredients by a contract manufacturer, and concerns about efficacy.
Canadians’ trips to liquor stores, pharmacies tracked via phones during pandemic
A report sent to the House of Commons ethics committee shows that Canadians’ movements, including trips to the liquor store and pharmacy, were closely tracked via their mobile phones without their knowledge during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Outbreak intelligence analysts BlueDot prepared reports using anonymized data for the Public Health Agency of Canada to help it understand travel patterns during the pandemic.
The federal government provided one of these reports to the ethics committee as it probed the collection and use of mobile phone data by the public health agency.
The report reveals the agency was able to view a detailed snapshot of people’s behaviour, including visits to the grocery store, gatherings with family and friends, time spent at home and trips to other towns and provinces.
Read the full story here.
— The Canadian Press
Alberta expands Paxlovid providers
Alberta doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists will now be able to prescribe the COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid, in a bid to make the drug more readily accessible.
Health minister Jason Copping announced during the weekly provincial COVID update Wednesday that availability would expand beyond the centralized Alberta Health Services access line.
Paxlovid helps stop COVID infections from progressing to more severe symptoms in people who are at higher risk, potentially averting a hospital stay. But the drug needs to be taken within five days of first experiencing symptoms, so anyone who might benefit from it needs to be able to get it quickly.
Some people who are eligible to take Paxlovid have complained that they’ve had trouble getting their hands on it, and some doctors have been critical that too much of the supply is sitting on shelves.
Positive rapid-antigen tests will now also be accepted in the process of getting Paxlovid.
— The Edmonton Journal
Almost three times as many people have died as a result of COVID-19 as the official data show, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report, the most comprehensive look at the true global toll of the pandemic so far.
There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the U.N. body said on Thursday. The official count of deaths directly attributable to COVID-19 and reported to WHO in that period, from January 2020 to the end of December 2021, is slightly more than 5.4 million.
The WHO’s excess mortality figures reflect people who died of COVID-19 as well as those who died as an indirect result of the outbreak, including people who could not access health care for other conditions when systems were overwhelmed during huge waves of infection. It also accounts for deaths averted during the pandemic, for example because of the lower risk of traffic accidents during lockdowns.
But the numbers are also far higher than the official tally because of deaths that were missed in countries without adequate reporting. Even pre-pandemic, around 6 in 10 deaths around the world were not registered, WHO said.
Travel industry, airlines urge end to COVID testing to enter U.S.
Major U.S. airlines, business and travel groups and other companies urged the White House on Thursday to abandon COVID-19 pre-departure testing requirements for vaccinated international passengers traveling to the United States.
“Given the slow economic recovery of the business and international travel sectors, and in light of medical advancements and the improved public health metrics in the U.S., we encourage you to immediately remove the inbound testing requirement for vaccinated air travellers,” said the letter signed by American Airlines, Carnival Corp, Marriott International, Walt Disney Co’s Disney Parks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Travel Association and others.
Airline executives say many Americans are not traveling internationally because of concerns they will test positive and be stranded abroad.
The letter to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said “the economic costs associated with maintaining the measure are significant,” saying international travel spending is down 78 per cent compared with 2019 levels.
EU regulator hopes to approve COVID variant-adapted vaccines by autumn
The European Union’s drug regulator said on Thursday it hoped to have vaccines adapted to address coronavirus variants, such as Omicron, approved by September.
“Our priority is to ensure that adaptive vaccines are possibly approved by September at the latest to be ready for the rollout of new immunization campaigns in the EU in the autumn,” said Marco Cavaleri, head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy at the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
“This would allow manufacturers to adjust their production lines accordingly.”
The mRNA vaccines, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are the furthest along, and clinical trials are continuing.
Vaccine developers are investigating whether shots that target just one variant offer advantages over vaccines that target two variants, Cavaleri added, noting trial data was expected to come in over the next coupe of months.
Moderna is developing a potential next generation booster targeted at both the Omicron variant as well as the original strain of the coronavirus in the hope of producing broader protection. It expects first trial data in June.
Meanwhile, at the end of March, BioNTech and Pfizer broadened their original trial program that prioritized a booster shot that targets only Omicron to also test a shot targeting Omicron and the original version of the coronavirus.
Quebec offers fourth vaccine dose to people 18-59
Via Twitter this afternoon, Quebec’s Health Department announced that all adults can now book an appointment for a fourth vaccine dose (also referred to as a second booster) via Clic Santé.
These shots were already available for Quebecers 60 and older, as well as people who are immunocompromised.
“Second booster dose for 18-59-year-olds: it’s now possible to make an appointment on Clic Santé,” the Health Department said via Twitter.
“There is Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec recommendation for this age group (with exceptions) but it is possible to administer it to those who wish to receive it. There are no contraindications.”
Quebec says people must wait three months between their third and fourth doses.
— Montreal Gazette
A number of reporters from CNN, ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, Politico, and other news organizations have tested positive for COVID-19 since the White House Correspondents Dinner took place on April 30, the president of the correspondents association said on Tuesday.
Among those who tested positive after the event of 2,600 attendees are ABC News’s chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl, who shook hands with President Joe Biden, and chief national correspondent for Voice of America Steve Herman.
Though the exact number of infections from the gala is unknown, Steven Portnoy, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and CBS News’ White House reporter, said the cases he knew of so far numbered in the “single digits.”
“We worked hard to publicize our protocols and encouraged those eligible to get booster shots in the weeks leading up to the dinner,” Portnoy told CNN. “Our event implemented protocols that went beyond any guidance or regulation issued by the CDC or the DC health department. We wish anyone who may not be feeling well a speedy recovery.”
—Lynn Chaya, National Post
COVID Americas cases up, North American cases up for fifth week
COVID-19 cases in the Americas increased by 12.7 per cent last week from the prior week, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, as infections continued to rise in Central and North America.
The Americas reported more than 616,000 new cases last week, while the death toll was down by less than 1 per cent in the same comparison to 4,200, the organization said.
PAHO’s director, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, called for stronger measures to tackle the pandemic as cases and hospitalizations rise.
“COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising in far too many places, which should prompt us to strengthen our measures to combat the virus, including surveillance and preparedness,” Etienne told a news conference.
“We must reach those who remain unvaccinated with the full COVID-19 vaccine primary series, and ensure access to boosters, especially to the most vulnerable,” she added.
According to PAHO, cases were up for the fifth consecutive week in North America, rising 19.5 per cent. That was driven by a 27.1 per cent increase in the United States as new infections declined in Canada and Mexico.
Moderna sees higher COVID vaccine sales later this year
Moderna Inc on Wednesday forecast higher vaccine sales for the second half of the year than in the first six months, as it expects the virus that causes COVID-19 to follow a more seasonal pattern requiring booster shots in the fall.
The U.S. vaccine maker is developing a potential next generation booster targeted at both the Omicron variant as well as the original strain of the coronavirus in hopes of producing broader protection.
“The desired features for a Northern Hemisphere fall winter booster we think will be that it improves the durability of neutralizing antibodies against Omicron,” said Moderna President Stephen Hoge.
Hoge expects annual boosters to be needed for people at high-risk of severe illness, which Moderna estimates consists of roughly 1.7 billion people worldwide.
Read the full story here.
Beijing steps up COVID curbs as virus spreads in China
Beijing shut scores of metro stations and bus routes and extended COVID-19 curbs on many public venues on Wednesday, focusing efforts to avoid the fate of Shanghai, where millions have been under strict lockdown for more than a month.
The central city of Zhengzhou earlier also announced restrictions, joining dozens of big population centres under some form of lockdown as China seeks to eliminate a virus believed to have first emerged in Wuhan city in late 2019.
But that uncompromising battle is undermining its growth and hurting international companies invested there, data shows, and has also fuelled rare public outbursts of discontent.
With dozens of new cases a day, Beijing is hoping mass testing will find and isolate the virus before it spreads. Twelve of 16 city districts held the second of three rounds of tests this week.
Read the full story here.
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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