COVID-19 Update for February 26 – 12:25PM

Vaccine Update

Today, Health Canada authorized two vaccines: the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca and developed in partnership with Oxford University, and the Serum Institute of India’s version of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Health Canada’s authorization of the Verity Pharmaceuticals Inc./Serum Institute of India product relies on the assessment of its comparability to the AstraZeneca-produced version of the vaccine.

These are the first viral vector-based COVID-19 vaccines authorized in Canada. The vaccines are authorized for use in people over 18 years of age. They are administered as a two-dose regimen and can be kept at refrigerated temperatures (from 2˚ to 8˚C) for at least six months.

The vaccine’s efficacy is well below the 94 per cent efficacy of the Moderna shot and the 95 per cent efficacy found with the Pfizer shots. On Friday, Health Canada’s senior medical advisor, Supriya Sharma, said that the important features are that the vaccines prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and death. No one who received the shots died from COVID-19 and no one who contracted COVID-19 after receiving the shot was hospitalized.

With Pfizer, Moderna, and now AstraZeneca, Canada is scheduled to receive more than 6.5 million doses before the end of March.

The news release can be found here.

COVID-19 Update for February 24 – 2:05PM

Ontario will launch age-based vaccinations in mid-March, and has earmarked $115 million to train more Personal Support Workers.

Vaccine Schedule

Retired General Rick Hillier, Chair of Ontario’s Coronavirus Vaccine Distribution Task Force, announced that the province will begin rolling out COVID-19 vaccines to the general public based on age, starting on March 15.

Until then, over the next three weeks Ontario will focus on getting first and second vaccine doses to residents and essential workers in long-term care homes, high-risk retirement homes and First Nations communities.

The mass vaccinations starting on March 15 will begin with anyone 80 years of age or older. Each following month, vaccination appointments will become available to people in younger age brackets. For example, Hillier said vaccines should be available to anyone 75+ as of April 15, 70+ as of May 1 and 65 or older as of June 1.

An online portal and call centre will go live on March 15 allowing people book to appointments at the appropriate time for first and second doses in their communities, at a combination of mass vaccination clinics, pharmacies and “mini” clinics.

Information about how to access the booking system will be made available and broadly distributed prior to the launch date.

Hillier said the province is working with Ontario’s 34 public health units to orchestrate the vaccine rollout because of their experience and local understanding managing mass vaccinations. Each health unit will be expected to administer up to 10,000 doses of vaccine per day.

Currently, Ontario is administering an average of 15,000 to 18,000 vaccine doses daily.

8,200 New PSWs

Premier Doug Ford announced $115 million to train 8,200 new Personal Support Workers in Long-Term Care, Home Care, and Community Care this year.

The funding will give 6,000 students access to a tuition-free, fast-track program in all 24 colleges across the province starting in April – enabling them to finish within six months. The government will also be providing $2,000 in tuition assistance to 2,200 Ontario students who are already enrolled in similar programs.

All 8,200 students will be placed in paid learning environments early in their respective programs to boost the amount of available staffing in homes across the province.

You can read the full announcement here.

COVID-19 Update for February 19 – 2:35PM

Today, Prime Minister Trudeau provided an update on Canada’s vaccine rollout and announced the extension of several federal support programs. Premier Doug Ford provided an update on the province’s COVID-19 response and the extension of the stay-at-home order in Toronto, Peel and North Bay-Parry Sound for an additional two weeks.

Vaccine Update

Trudeau began today’s remarks by providing an update on Canada’s vaccine deliveries. Canada received 400,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week, the largest shipment to date. Next week, the Government expects to receive nearly half a million doses, and by the end of March, 6 million doses total of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will have arrived in Canada.

According to Trudeau, we are now in the “ramp up phase” of our vaccine plan and hundreds of thousands of doses will begin arriving each week. The Prime Minister also reiterated his promise that every Canadian who wants a vaccine by September will be able to receive one.

Extension of Federal Government Support Programs

Trudeau also announced that the federal government is extending the Canada Recovery Benefit and the Canada Recovery Care Giving Benefit by 12 weeks. This brings the new maximum an individual can claim the benefit to 36 weeks in total. The benefit is designed to support individuals while looking for a job, or who are taking care of family members while looking for a job.

The government also announced the extension of the $500-per-week Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, from the current two weeks to a new total of four weeks, and an increase in Employment Insurance benefits as well. Individuals can now claim regular EI for a maximum of 50 weeks, which is 24 more than the existing limit.

Ontario Launches Education Campaign to Help Workplaces Reopen

This morning, Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton, announced that the provincial government is launching a new health and safety education campaign, that will focus on helping small and medium-sized businesses reopen safely. The initiative will include on-the-ground assistance for businesses, as well as support materials that will help businesses ensure they are compliant with public health regulations.

You can read the full announcement here.

Stay-at-Home Order Extended in Toronto, Peel and North Bay-Parry Sound

The Ontario government is maintaining the shutdown, the Stay-at-Home order and all existing public health and workplace safety measures for an additional two weeks in the Toronto and Peel Public Health Regions, along with the North Bay-Parry Sound District. These measures will continue to apply until at least Monday, March 8, 2021.

You can read the full announcement here.

COVID-19 Update for February 12 – 1:35PM

Vaccine Schedule

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an updated schedule for the delivery of Pfizer vaccines. He confirmed that Canada will receive four million promised doses by the end of March. Combined with the expected Moderna vaccines, Canada should receive six million doses total by the end of March.

Despite earlier delivery delays, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand confirmed that more than 400,000 doses are expected the week of February 15th.

Pfizer will provide Canada with 10.8 million doses between April and June. The remaining doses will be delivered by the end of the third quarter for a total of 40 million doses from Pfizer.

The Prime Minister also announced that the federal government has come to an agreement with Moderna for an additional four million doses to arrive this summer.

This brings Canada’s agreements to an expected 84 million doses of both vaccines by the end of September. Any other vaccines that may be approved (AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson) will be in addition to these agreements.

Border Measures

Stricter border measures will soon be implemented for both air travellers and people who arrive through a land port of entry.

As of February 15th, entry at a land point will require proof of a valid molecular COVID-19 test taken in the U.S. within 72 hours prior to arrival. As of February 22nd, anyone entering at a land port of entry will be required to use a suitable quarantine plan prior to crossing the border, and will have to take two additional tests – one at entry and one at the end of a 14-day quarantine period. Exemptions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

For air travel, a COVID-19 molecular test is required as of February 22nd both before exiting the airport and at the end of a 14-day quarantine period, as is a stay at a government-approved hotel for three nights while waiting for test results. Booking is available as of February 18th.

COVID-19 Update for February 11 – 2:40PM

Today, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the government’s decision to postpone the 2021 March Break.

March Break postponed to week of April 12

Lecce announced that the province has made the decision to postpone March Break in Ontario in an effort to limit congregation and provide students with some stability as the province reopens. The decision was made based on medical advice provided to the Minster from public health officials.

By keeping schools open, it is expected that this will lead to lower community transmission as students remain in class.

The full announcement can be found here.

COVID-19 Update for February 9 – 12:30PM

This morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a one-year interest holiday on certain tax debt and additional protective measures at the land border, and Health Canada announced its approval of Pfizer’s bid to change the label on its vaccine to indicate that there are six doses in each vial.

Tax Debt Relief
Canadians who received federal emergency benefits such as the CERB and made up to $75,000 in taxable income will not have to pay interest on any 2020 tax debt until April 2022. Additionally, Canadians who applied to receive the CERB using their gross income (as opposed to net) will not have to return their CERB payments as long as their application meets the other eligibility criteria.

Land Border Measures
Effective February 15, Canadians returning to the country through a land border must show a 72-hour PCR test. This PCR test is already required for air travel.

Pfizer Label Update
The Pfizer vaccine will now be labelled as containing one additional dose, Health Canada officials announced during a technical briefing this morning. To help with the change, the federal government will be providing provinces with a “sufficient supply” of low dead-volume syringes ahead of the first vaccinations expected to extract six doses per vial. As part of the terms of the approval, Pfizer-BioNTech is required to provide educational support to vaccine points of use, information on low dead-volume syringes and the process for ensuring the accuracy for low dead space.

The Pfizer vaccine label will also include a warning that very rare allergic reactions have been reported during mass vaccination, including anaphylaxis. These reactions usually occur between a few minutes to one hour after receiving the vaccine.

COVID-19 Update for February 8 – 1:45PM

Today, Premier Doug Ford announced the province’s plan to gradually reopen the economy and return to a regional approach to COVID-19 restrictions.

Public Health Units to Gradually Return to the COVID-19 Response Framework
The Premier announced that the province’s state of emergency will be allowed to expire at midnight on Tuesday, February 9th. Ontario has been in a state of emergency since January 12th, and under stay-at-home orders since Boxing Day.

Ontario will also extend the current province-wide shutdown and maintain existing public health and workplace safety measures, including the stay-at-home order in most parts of the province. Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health Unit, and Renfrew County and District Health Unit will be the first public health units permitted to transition out of lockdown on February 10th. Most other public health units will follow on February 16th, with the exception of Peel, Toronto and York, where the lockdown will remain in effect until February 22nd.

As public health units transition out of lockdown, the province will begin to apply a revised version of the previous regional framework, the COVID-19 Response Framework: Keeping Ontario Safe and Open. When the province-wide shutdown ends, public health units will be re-classified into the appropriate colour-coded zone, as per the framework.

“Emergency Brake”
Under the province’s reopening framework, there is a new provision to allow for a public health unit to be moved immediately into the “grey-lockdown” classification if the region experiences a rapid acceleration in COVID-19, particularly with confirmed presence of variants of concern, or if the local health system becomes overwhelmed.

Under the revised framework, non-essential retail businesses will also be allowed to reopen with stronger restrictions, including capacity limits, even when regions are in the “grey-lockdown” zone.

You can read the full announcement here.

COVID-19 Update for February 3 – 5:00PM

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced that students in Toronto, Peel and York Region will be returning to physical schools on February 16, while students in 13 other regions will be returning to in-person education on February 8.

School Reopening Plan

Lecce revealed the province’s plan to return to in-class learning this afternoon after the announcement had been teased earlier in the week.

Alongside the reopening dates, he outlined “new and tougher” measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. These include province-wide access to targeted, voluntary, asymptomatic testing for students and staff; mandatory masking for students in grade 1 and older, even when outside; and access to higher-quality 3-ply masks for younger students.

Lecce underscored that the return to in-person learning was supported by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams (who joined him at the media briefing), and a number of “leading medical and scientific experts” which include the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

He added that while local public health units retain the authority to close schools to in-person learning if they deem it necessary, the province will continue to monitor the situation and will respond based on the advice of Dr. Williams, “if trends move in the wrong direction.”

The full release can be found here.

COVID-19 Update for January 29 – 3:45PM

This afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a six-point plan to stop variants of COVID-19 from spreading in the province, which includes a Section 22 order mandating testing of international travellers at Ontario airports and maintaining current public health measures.

Six-Point Plan

Ford’s six-point plan comes after the federal government unveiled measures to stop the virus from coming into Canada, which Ford said he welcomed, but needed to take “immediate and decisive action” sooner than the federal measures will come into effect over the next few weeks.

Among other courses of action, the provincial government revealed that lifting of public health and workplace safety measures will not be considered at this time “until more information on the variant spread is known and overall trends in public health indicators improve”, according to the news release.

The six elements of Ford’s plan are:

  • Mandatory testing of travelers
  • Enhanced screening and sequencing
  • Maintaining public health measures
  • Strengthening case and contact management
  • Enhancing protections for vulnerable populations
  • Leveraging data

The full release can be found online here.

COVID-19 Update for January 29 – 1:40PM

This morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the government and major airlines have agreed to suspend service to sun locations. The federal government has also increased testing requirements at airports and land borders for people returning to Canada and non-essential travellers.

Travel Measures
Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat will be cancelling flights to all Caribbean destinations and Mexico starting this Sunday and lasting until April 30. The airlines will make arrangements with Canadians currently on trips to arrange their return. Further, all international commercial, private, business, and charter flights will only be allowed to land at Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal effective February 3 without exception (save for Saint Pierre and Miquelon).

Adding to the already-required pre-boarding test, the government will be introducing mandatory PCR testing at airports for those returning to Canada “as soon as possible in the coming weeks”. Travellers will then have to wait at an approved hotel for their test results for up to three days at their own expense, which is expected to cost roughly $2,000. Those with negative test results are able to quarantine at home “under significantly increased surveillance and enforcement” for two weeks. Those with positive test results must quarantine immediately in “designated government facilities”, according to Trudeau, to ensure that they are not carrying variants of COVID-19.

At the land border with the United States, non-essential travellers will also be required to show a negative test before crossing, and additional testing requirements for land travel are currently being worked on.

Vaccine Delivery
Trudeau added that he received confirmation from the president of the European Commission that measures taken by Europe will not affect the delivery of vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna. Canada will receive 180,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week. He also spoke with the CEO of Pfizer and they confirmed that Canada is still on track to receive 4 million doses of their vaccine by the end of Q1 and added that more detail on the potential to receive additional doses to what is expected to come in the spring would be revealed next week.

Safe Return to Class
The final announcement of the morning was that an agreement has been reached between the federal government and all provinces and territories to release the second allocation of $1 billion from the Safe Return to Class Fund. The fund can be used for better sanitation, support for online learning, increased ventilation, and more.

The news release on this funding can be found here.