Here’s your weekly update with everything you need to know on the COVID situation in B.C. and around the world.

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Here’s your update with everything you need to know about the COVID situation in B.C. and around the world for the week of Jan. 12-18. This page will be updated with the latest COVID news and related research developments daily throughout the week, so be sure to check back often.

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You can also get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here.

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Here are the latest weekly B.C. figures given on Jan. 12:

• Hospitalized cases: 302 (down 54)
• Intensive care: 25 (stayed the same)
• New cases: 661 over seven days
• Total number of confirmed cases: 393,804
• Total deaths over seven days: 28 (total 4,961)

Read the full report here | Next update: Jan. 19


LATEST NEWS

In China, doctors say they are discouraged from citing COVID on death certificates

During a busy shift at the height of Beijing’s COVID wave, a physician at a private hospital saw a printed notice in the emergency department: doctors should “try not to” write COVID-induced respiratory failure on death certificates.

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Instead, if the deceased had an underlying disease, that should be named as the main cause of death, according to the notice, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

If doctors believe that the death was caused solely by COVID-19 pneumonia, they must report to their superiors, who will arrange for two levels of “expert consultations” before a COVID death is confirmed, it said.

Six doctors at public hospitals across China told Reuters they had either received similar oral instructions discouraging them from attributing deaths to COVID or were aware that their hospitals had such policies.

— Reuters

Smith says no COVID-19 pardons because Canadian system doesn’t work like the U.S.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she is no longer pursuing amnesty for COVID-19 health-rule violators because Canada doesn’t work that way.

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“Because we’ve been so influenced by the (United) States, I think that some people think that a premier has the same power as they do in the States of clemency or offering pardons,” Smith told the Shaun Newman podcast Monday.

“I’ve not observed that that’s the case in Canada. We just have a different criminal justice and different legal system, and once things have been handed over for prosecution, politicians have to be hands off.”

However, law professor Lorian Hardcastle says there is a way.

Hardcastle says pardoning provisions exist at the federal level and Ottawa has used them to offer exemptions to those convicted of simple criminal possession of cannabis.

—The Canadian Press

Stars catch COVID at Golden Globes as U.S. sees surge

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After celebrating at the Golden Globe Awards, stars were forced to stay away from the Critics Choice Awards less than a week later due to COVID.

Actor Jamie Lee Curtis shared the news in an Instagram post ahead of Sunday’s event with a picture of a positive COVID test. She had previously attended the Globes where she was nominated for best supporting actress for her role in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Other stars who had to drop out of the event this weekend after testing positive for COVID included Colin Farrell, Michelle Pfeiffer and Brendan Gleeson, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Pfeiffer was supposed to attend the Critics Choice Awards to present a Lifetime Achievement Award to actor Jeff Bridges. The two starred in the 1989 film The Fabulous Baker Boys.

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This comes as experts warn of another COVID surge in the United States. Hospital admissions for patients with COVID are at the fourth highest rate of the pandemic, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Guardian reported. The number of COVID-related deaths rose from 2,705 to 3,907 in just one week — from Jan. 4 to 11.

— National Post

60,000 COVID deaths in China; plan to boost spending for prevention, treatment

China’s finance ministry said on Monday it will boost funding for COVID-19 prevention and control, urging local fiscal departments to step up transfer payments to rural and poor areas, it said in a statement.

The world’s second-largest economy has seen a surge in COVID infections after Beijing abruptly removed stringent anti-virus curbs last month. Authorities said on Saturday nearly 60,000 people with COVID have died in hospitals between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12.

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The funding should be mainly used for treatment, temporary work allowance for medical staff, vaccinations and improving medical treatment capabilities, said the statement.

China will also support the use of local government bonds and the issuance of special local government bonds for building qualified health care projects, in a bid to meet the needs of public medical treatment, it said.

Resource coordination of first aid in the countryside should be done well, and medical treatment of patients with severe conditions must also be prepared, the statement added.

The country will set up “green channels” for the government, which will facilitate the purchase of medical supplies, vowing “COVID prevention and control must not be affected by funding issues,” said the statement.

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In 2022, declining state land sales revenue amid an ongoing crackdown on debt in the sector severely eroded local governments’ financial power – a situation exacerbated also by China’s feeble growth, weak tax income and crippling COVID restrictions.

Gross domestic product (GDP) likely grew just 2.8% in 2022 as lockdowns weighed on activity and confidence, according to a Reuters poll, slower than a 3.2% rise seen in October’s forecast and braking sharply from 8.4% growth in 2021.

— Reuters

World Health Organization asks China for more origin data

The World Health Organization has asked the Chinese government for more information on the origin of COVID-19 in that country.

On Saturday, WHO director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke with China’s National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei about the COVID-19 situation in the country.

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China is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases since it abandoned its zero-COVID policy, leading to a new Omicron variant that is spreading globally.

“WHO appreciates this meeting, as well as the public release of information on the overall situation,” Tedros said.

“WHO is analyzing this information, which covers early December 2022 to 12 January 2023, and allows for a better understanding of the epidemiological situation and the impact of this wave in China.”

COVID-19 appeared in China in late 2019 and spread to become the global pandemic that it is today.

Tedros said he had also asked the Chinese government for “deeper cooperation and transparency on understanding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Flu season is already winding down, COVID stable, says B.C. Ministry of Health

A flu season that started early is also winding down as the new year has barely begun.

The B.C. Ministry of Health provided an update on respiratory virus season on Friday, showing that influenza cases are already declining after an earlier-than-usual peak in late November and early December.

The provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said there have been no reported deaths of young people since December, after B.C. had six deaths among children during the early spike in flu cases.

“We have not seen any additional deaths beyond the six that were initially reported that we linked to influenza early on,” she said at a news conference. “That’s important.”

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Cases of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, remain high, while COVID-19 has been relatively stable.

— Joseph Ruttle

U.S. FDA, CDC see early signal of Pfizer bivalent COVID shot’s link to stroke

A safety monitoring system flagged that U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech’s updated COVID-19 shot could be linked to a type of brain stroke in older adults, according to preliminary data analyzed by U.S. health authorities.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Friday that a CDC vaccine database had uncovered a possible safety issue in which people 65 and older were more likely to have an ischemic stroke within 21 days after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech bivalent shot, compared with days 22-44.

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An ischemic stroke, also known as brain ischemia, is caused by blockages in arteries that carry blood to the brain.

The FDA and CDC said that other large studies, the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, other countries’ databases and Pfizer-BioNTech’s databases had not flagged this safety issue, adding that it requires more investigation.

“Although the totality of the data currently suggests that it is very unlikely that the signal in VSD (Vaccine Safety Datalink) represents a true clinical risk, we believe it is important to share this information with the public,” the health authorities said.

Pfizer and BioNTech said in a statement that they have been made aware of limited reports of ischemic strokes in people 65 and older following vaccination with their updated shot.

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“Neither Pfizer and BioNTech nor the CDC or FDA have observed similar findings across numerous other monitoring systems in the U.S. and globally and there is no evidence to conclude that ischemic stroke is associated with the use of the companies’ COVID-19 vaccines,” the companies added.

This safety concern has not been identified with Moderna’s bivalent shot and both the CDC and FDA continue to recommend that everyone aged six months and older stay up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccination.

— Reuters

B.C. CDC reports 25 patients in critical care, 28 deaths over seven days

The B.C. CDC says trends in severe outcomes such critical care admissions and deaths are relatively stable or declining. 

On Thursday, there were 302 individuals in the hospital who tested positive for COVID-19, down 54 from the week before and 25 individuals in critical care, the same number as the last reporting period.

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There were 661 new cases reported over seven days and 28 deaths. That brings the number of fatalities in the province from COVID-19 to 4,961 since the pandemic started.

Alberta premier backs off on promise to seek pardons for COVID-19 health violators

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, less than three months after promising to seek pardons for COVID-19 health violators, says she will now let justice take its course while also announcing she is regularly contacting Crown prosecutors about these cases.

“The way our system of justice works is we do have an independent justice department and independent Crown prosecutors,” Smith told reporters Thursday when asked why she has not followed through on the pardon commitment.

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“As we continue to see some of these cases go through — some of them get dropped, some of them fail — (prosecutors) have to consistently recalibrate, but I do want to make sure they have an independent process for assessing that.

“But I ask them on a regular basis, as new cases come out, is it in the public interest to pursue and is there a reasonable likelihood of conviction?”

The Justice Department later issued a statement that appeared to contradict Smith.

“The premier had met to discuss prosecutions at a high level with the attorney general and deputy attorney general,” said department spokesman Jason Maloney.

— The Canadian Press

‘Gross negligence’: Judge gives go-ahead to COVID-deaths lawsuit against Ontario

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Debate over Ontario’s role in the COVID-19 deaths of more than 5,000 nursing-home residents appears headed to a legal showdown — and one lawyer says the case could have an impact throughout Canada.

A class-action lawsuit charges that the province was “grossly negligent” in failing to prevent waves of long-term-care deaths in the early stages of the pandemic.

Governments enjoy broad immunity against civil suits generally, and a 2020 Ontario law barred almost all types of COVID-related legal action specifically. But a judge has ruled the families of nursing-home victims can sue the minister of long-term care, citing the plaintiffs’ contention that the government showed bad faith and an acute degree of negligence.

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There is at least some chance those allegations can be proven at trial, concluded Justice Edward Belobaba of the Ontario Superior Court in a ruling last month.

National Post

Provinces look to cleanse storerooms of expired hand sanitizer

Provinces are awash with expired hand sanitizer that Ottawa sent them during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government spent $376 million to get more than 20 million litres of hand sanitizer, which the Public Health Agency of Canada distributed.

But now, most provinces have excess expired sanitizer and getting rid of it through disposal or repurposing comes with a hefty cost.

Saskatchewan is expecting to spend $100,000 to get rid of more than 350,000 litres of hand sanitizer that’s sitting in a Regina warehouse and Manitoba spent more than $462,000 to repurpose its extra sanitizer.

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— The Canadian Press

UBC researchers find three compounds that block COVID-19 infection

A team of researchers led by scientists at UBC has identified three compounds that can prevent COVID-19 infection in human cells.

The compounds are all from natural sources in Canada, including a sea sponge plucked from B.C.’s Howe Sound and marine bacteria from Barkley Sound.

François Jean and co-author Jimena Perez-Vargas headed an international team that investigated more than 350 compounds from natural sources such as plants, fungi and marine sponges to unlock their potential to create new antiviral drugs for use against COVID-19 and other pathogens.

“This interdisciplinary research team is unravelling the important possibilities of biodiversity and natural resources and discovering nature-based solutions for global health challenges such as COVID-19,” said senior author Jean, an associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of B.C.

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— Joseph Ruttle

China suspends issuing visas in Japan, South Korea to retaliate for COVID curbs

China suspended issuing short-term visas in South Korea and Japan on Tuesday, after announcing it would retaliate against countries that required negative COVID-19 tests from Chinese travellers.

China has ditched mandatory quarantines for arrivals and allowed travel to resume across its border with Hong Kong since Sunday, removing the last major restrictions under the “zero-COVID” regime which it abruptly began dismantling in early December after historic protests against the curbs.

But the virus is spreading unchecked among its 1.4 billion people and worries over the scale and impact of its outbreak have prompted Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United States and other countries to require negative COVID tests from travellers from China.

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Although China imposes similar testing requirements for all arrivals, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Tuesday entry curbs for Chinese travellers were “discriminatory” and China would take “reciprocal measures.”

—Reuters

Five inmates test positive at Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford

The Correctional Service of Canada is reporting five inmates at Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford have tested positive for COVID-19. There have been at least three other COVID-19 outbreaks at the medium-security prison – in May 2020, January 2022 and June 2022 – affecting dozens of prisoners.

The latest outbreak may impact prison visits, according to CSC.

WHO backs mask wearing for long-haul flights

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Countries should consider recommending passengers wear masks on long-haul flights to counter the latest Omicron subvariant of COVID-19 given its rapid spread in the United States, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Tuesday.

In Europe, the XBB.1.5 subvariant is being detected in small but growing numbers, WHO/Europe officials said at a press briefing.

Passengers should be advised to wear masks in high-risk settings such as long-haul flights, said the WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, adding: “this should be a recommendation issued to passengers arriving from anywhere where there is widespread COVID-19 transmission.”

XBB.1.5 – the most transmissible Omicron subvariant detected so far – accounted for 27.6 per cent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. for the week ending Jan. 7, health officials have said.

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— Reuters

Omicron COVID booster cuts hospitalization in over 65s: Israeli study

The Omicron-adapted COVID-19 vaccine booster developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE sharply reduced hospitalizations among older patients, Israeli researchers said on Monday, in some of the first evidence of the jab’s real-world effectiveness.

The study by researchers from health-care provider Clalit, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Sapir College has not yet been peer reviewed.

It found an 81% reduction in hospitalizations among people aged 65 and older who had received the booster against those who had previously received at least two COVID vaccinations, but not the Omicron-adapted shot.

The study was carried out from the end of September until mid-December and looked at 622,701 people aged 65 and over who were eligible for the bivalent booster. Among them, 85,314, or 14%, had received it.

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— Reuters

What is the Kraken COVID variant, and what’s with the monster nicknames?

It is the nickname for a worrying new subvariant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19.

“It is on the increase in the U.S. and Europe and has now been identified in more than 25 countries,” said World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday.

The WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution says the “rapidly increasing proportion of XBB.1.5 in the United States and other countries” is an urgent concern and it is preparing a new update in the next few days.

Why Kraken?

This is a nickname, light-hearted if not actually funny. The official WHO naming convention that follows the Greek alphabet for variants of concern remains in place. Omicron is the currently dominant variant of COVID-19. If it has a successor, it will be called Pi.

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—National Post


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.

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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.

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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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