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

This Dec. 2, 2020, file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)
Interior Health notes 80 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

108 people in the region have died from the virus

Forty-eight vaccination clinics will open across Interior Health beginning March 15. (Canadian Press)
48 COVID-19 vaccine clinics to open across Interior Health

Select groups can book appointments starting Monday

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

The two suspects arrested south of 150 Mile House Tuesday, March 2, following a high-speed chase with the RCMP have been charged. (Will Roberts photo)
High-speed chase suspects charged, remain in custody after arrest south of Williams Lake

John Craig and Maggie M. Higgott appeared in Williams Lake Provincial Court March 4

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complaints about that condo

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. A joint federal and B.C. government housing program announced today aims to help people living in up to 25,000 vulnerable households pay their rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal, B.C. governments announce $517-million rent aid program to help vulnerable

Benefits for those not eligible for B.C.’s Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters

Most Read