A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Threat from variants means provinces must be ready to lock down again quickly: Tam

The number of cases linked to any of the variants doubled in the last week

With new and more contagious variants of COVID-19 escalating in Canada, provincial governments lifting lockdown restrictions must be ready to slam them back into place at a moment’s notice, Canada’s chief public health doctor said Tuesday.

At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took another step toward trying to keep more variants from getting into the country, with a plan to start making people arriving in Canada by land show recent negative COVID-19 tests.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada’s COVID-19 picture is getting better, with daily case counts less than half of what they were a month ago and hospitalizations dropping.

About 100 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day but that’s down from almost 150 people a day in the last week of January.

Not all the news was good. Newfoundland announced 30 new cases Tuesday, its second highest single-day total in the pandemic thus far. The province invoked new public health measures in St. John’s, closing bars, lounges and gyms, while limiting capacity in restaurants.

But over the last week daily case counts have come down in most provinces.

In British Columbia, health officials said progress is being made in pushing back the spread of the virus as it announced 435 new cases.

Ontario reported just over 1,000 cases Tuesday, its lowest total since the first week of November and less than one-third of the case totals a month ago. Quebec reported fewer than 900 cases, back to levels not seen regularly since October.

Both those provinces, and Manitoba, are relaxing some restrictions starting this week, with Quebec opening most shopping malls and hair salons, Ontario lifting its stay-at-home order for most of the province by next week and Manitoba starting to allow in-person dining for the first time since November.

All of it gives Tam pause.

“I think what my concern is that right now if we release some of these measures that a resurgence will occur,” said Tam. “But that resurgence could be due to one of these variants, and then it will be much more difficult to control.”

She said because we’re not yet screening every positive COVID-19 case for the variants, Canada probably doesn’t have a full picture of the Canadian presence of more contagious variants of the virus behind COVID-19. But because they could become the most prevalent sources of infection in Canada, any sign that they’re beginning to spread needs to be met with a rapid and decisive public health response.

“You’ve got to put the brakes on quickly,” she said.

The number of cases linked to any of the variants doubled in the last week, said Tam, and many are now not linked to any travel cases.

Trudeau said Tuesday that as of Feb. 15, non-essential workers arriving at land borders will have to show negative PCR COVID-19 tests completed less than three days before arriving.

Failing to do so can net a fine up to $3,000 and increased enforcement of the required two-week quarantine. Land travellers will not be sent to the mandatory quarantine hotels for those arriving by airplane.

The government began requiring all people arriving in Canada by air to show negative PCR-based COVID-19 tests in early January.

Trudeau said Canadians arriving by land can’t be refused entry because they’re already on Canadian soil when they meet with border guards. Air travellers getting on planes on foreign soil can be denied boarding without the tests.

The latest statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency show that since the end of March 2.9 million people, excluding truck drivers, entered through land border crossings, while 2.4 million arrived by airplane.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma also said Monday the department’s vaccine review team agrees with Pfizer and BioNTech that each vial of their vaccine contains six doses, rather than five.

Sharma said the review team is confident that sixth dose can be extracted consistently, if the special low dead-volume syringes are used. Those syringes trap less vaccine between the plunger and needle after an injection.

Dr. Marc Berthiaume, the director of the bureau of medical sciences at Health Canada, said if people administering the vaccine are careful and use the special syringes “it’s going to be very easy to draw the six doses from the vial.”

Canada has ordered 64 million of the syringes and is starting to ship the first two million to provinces this week.

The change however means Pfizer will fulfil its contract to ship four million doses to Canada by March by sending fewer vials. Next week Pfizer’s shipment of 67,275 vials will be said to contain 400,000 doses, instead of 336,000.

Provincial governments have reported varying success at getting a sixth dose already. Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro called the sixth dose change “frustrating.”

“The federal government has contracted out on the basis of doses, not vials, so it means the provinces are going to end up not getting as many doses, I think,” Shandro said.

He said even with the right syringe, they’re only going to get the sixth dose out of each vial 75 per cent of the time.

Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the acting chief medical officer in Ontario’s Niagara health region, said on Twitter medical professionals there were 100 per cent successful at getting a sixth dose, and half the time were even able to get a seventh dose.

Pfizer’s vials have 2.25 ml of liquid, including 0.45 ml of active vaccine and 1.8 ml of sodium chloride. Each dose is 0.3 ml, and when the amount trapped in syringes after an injection is accounted for, there is about 0.25 ml still left.

As part of the agreement to change the label Pfizer has to report to Health Canada every three months if there are any issues getting that sixth dose, and provide ongoing educational support. Health Canada is also providing training for medical professionals.

Canada’s contract with Pfizer and BioNTech is to buy 40 million doses this year, with four million to be shipped by the end of March, and most of the rest before the end of September.

The United States, Europe and the World Health Organization all made the dose change last month.

ALSO READ: Canada to require negative COVID-19 test at land borders

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Photo: Now-Leader).
Surrey Schools seeking community input for 2021-22 budget

Majority of it is pre-allocated, but room to address priorities in the community

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service hires first three inspectors as ‘next layer of leadership’

Three men have more than 80 years of combined experience

Whalley Chiefs general manager Paul Hargreaves in the stands at the club's diamond at Whalley Athletic Park. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey baseball clubs prep for spring games as COVID threatens another season

‘I’m really excited about this year, because we have the troops in place,’ Whalley Chiefs GM says

Scales of Justice
Court awards woman $167K after vehicle was struck by White Rock taxi in 2016

Plaintiff’s knee injuries and resulting chronic pain disability are genuine, judge rules

TEASER - SAGAís Gift Shop Manager Barbie Warwick wearing The Summons while sketching in Facing Time exhibit. Photo by Pardeep Singh.jpg
‘The Summons’ face masks created as fundraiser for Surrey Art Gallery Association

Image of magnolia flower and poetry printed on specially designed mask

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Burnaby Mounties responded to 56 complaints and issued 10 tickets to people flouting COVID-19 restrictions in February. (Patrick Davies/100 Mile Free Press)
COVID denier fined $2,300 for hosting gathering in her home: Burnaby RCMP

The woman told Mounties she does not believe the pandemic is real

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

RCMP members responded to calls of a man-down at Landsdowne mall in Richmond Wednesday afternoon. The 40-year-old was suffering from stab wounds. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man in critical condition following afternoon attack outside Richmond mall: RCMP

The Vancouver resident was found lying injured outside Richmond’s Lansdowne Centre

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
B.C. mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

Most Read