Ontario took steps to combat workplace COVID-19 outbreaks Wednesday as it unveiled a new paid sick-leave program for workers, while efforts to curb community spread in Nova Scotia saw the province enter a full lockdown.
The Ontario government announced it will give all workers who need to self-isolate three days of paid sick leave, and reimburse employers up to $200 a day for what they pay out through the program.
The announcement comes after months of pressure from health experts and advocates to provide paid sick leave to help curb workplace infections, which remain a major source of outbreaks in hot spot areas.
Toronto and nearby Peel Region, the two main hot spots in the province, last week began to temporarily shut down businesses with recent outbreaks. On Wednesday, a Canada Post facility in Mississauga, Ont., was ordered to have some 80 employees self-isolate after 12 tested positive for the virus over a week.
The province also issued an emergency order Wednesday meant to free up capacity in its overburdened hospitals. The measure allows hospitals to transfer patients waiting for a long-term care bed to any nursing home without their consent.
Ontario’s health minister, Christine Elliott, said transfers without consent will only take place in the most urgent situations, and only if doctors are confident the move won’t compromise the patient’s condition.
Ontario reported 3,480 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 24 more deaths linked to the virus.
Out east, a full shutdown took effect in Nova Scotia Wednesday in an effort to rein in surging COVID-19 cases, closing schools and non-essential businesses.
The lockdown is set to last two weeks and comes as the provinces grapples with nearly 500 active infections – including 75 new cases reported Wednesday.
Premier Iain Rankin said the province will also start offering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to residents 40 to 54 years old as early as Friday.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported four new cases Wednesday, as well as its first case of a COVID-19 variant first identified in Brazil.
In Quebec, which logged 1,094 new infections and 12 additional deaths Wednesday, relatives of a woman who developed blood clots and died after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine urged people to watch closely for symptoms following immunization.
Francine Boyer received the shot alongside her husband on April 9 and began to experience headaches and severe fatigue in the following days, according to a statement issued by her family.
She was treated in hospital and at the Montreal Neurological Institute, but died of a cerebral thrombosis on April 23.
“Ms. Boyer’s family would like to encourage people who receive a vaccine to stay alert for symptoms or unusual reactions and to contact Info-Sante (811) if in doubt,” the statement said.
Public health officials in Quebec have said they believe Boyer is the first person in Canada whose death can be potentially linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Experts have repeatedly stated that blood clots related to the AstraZeneca shot are very rare and the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.
In Alberta, health officials were looking into whether the death of a 17-year-old girl was caused by a COVID-19 variant, the teen’s father said Wednesday.
Ron Strate said his daughter Sarah’s health deteriorated Monday and she died soon after arriving at the hospital. He said her death demonstrates that the pandemic should be taken seriously.
Alberta moved Wednesday to send more vaccine doses to two of its hot spots – Banff and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes the oilsands hub city of Fort McMurray.
The province is also broadening the age eligibility for immunization in those areas, offering AstraZeneca shots to those 30 or older. Indigenous people in Wood Buffalo will also be able to receive the Moderna vaccine if they are 30 or older.
Meanwhile, Canada was to receive its first 300,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, according to a federal source. The doses are expected to be distributed to provinces next week.
Canada’s panel of vaccine experts, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, hasn’t issued any guidance yet on how the vaccine – the fourth approved for use in Canada – should be used.
Another 650,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine also arrived at Toronto’s Pearson airport, the Canada Border Services Agency said.
The shipment contains only half of what Canada initially expected to receive, however, due to production issues. It was also delayed from last week.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press