The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Feb. 3

  • Trudeau, Defence Department say Canadian military has no role right now concerning Ottawa protesters.
  • On Scott Moe and the base rate fallacy.
  • Atlantic Canada: Hospitals stretched in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, some restrictions will ease next week in Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Explore: Questions emerge about COVID-19 data transparency in New Brunswick and Manitoba…. Omicron infection alone may not provide very long-lasting immunity…. Unions look to negotiate increases to match inflationary trend…. Follow the latest on mandate protests in southern Alberta and in Ottawa.

A Palestinian girl attends class online from her home in Dura village in the West Bank on Thursday, after a decision was made by authorities to close schools following a surge in COVID-19 cases. (Hazem Bader / AFP / Getty Images)

Trudeau rules out negotiating with protesters, says military deployment ‘not in the cards’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday again expressed disinterest in personally meeting with protesters demonstrating in Ottawa or negotiating with their leaders through his government.

The protest, now almost a week old, started in opposition to the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers. It has since expanded into a movement against broader public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including provincial vaccine mandates, masks and restrictions.

A news release issued by some senior convoy leaders Wednesday said that while protesters empathize with the plight of local residents, they plan to remain in Ottawa “for as long as it takes.” One organizing group, Canada Unity, is demanding that government leaders either repeal the mandates or “resign their lawful positions of authority immediately.”

Trudeau said in terms of negotiating with anyone, the subject of vaccine mandates was in effect settled by the outcome of the September federal election.

“That is the decision Canadians took in the last election, by voting for parties that were supporting those mandates,” he told a virtual news conference Thursday. “So having a group of people who disagree with the outcome of an election, who want to go a different way and bring in an alternative government, is a non-starter in a responsible democracy.”

While the Liberals announced plans to mandate vaccines for federal workers and for those travelling in any part of the federally regulated transportation sector ahead of the election, the plans for a mandate for the trucking industry were not revealed until November. At that point, all Canadian truckers looking to cross the border from the United States were told of the need to be vaccinated by Jan. 22 in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine.

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said Wednesday the city is considering various options to end the disruption caused by the convoy protest to residents but suggested at one point there may be “no policing solution to this.”

Federal officials on Thursday reacted to some confusion resulting from Sloly’s news conference, indicating that there is no role for the military currently in the dispute. The suggestion seemed to animate and anger several conservative American pundits, who have been tracking the Canadian protest.

Daniel Minden, spokesperson for Defence Minister Anita Anand, told CBC News Wednesday night that the Canadian Armed Forces are not involved in law enforcement in Ottawa and have no plans to get involved.

Trudeau said Thursday military intervention “is not in the cards right now.”

“One has to be very, very cautious before deploying military forces in situations engaging Canadians,” Trudeau said Thursday. “It is not something that anyone should enter in lightly.”

From CBC News

China’s hard line on its zero-COVID policy

As the Beijing 2022 Olympics get underway, China has doubled-down on its zero-COVID strategy, attempting to stamp out any outbreaks as soon as they arise, often resorting to extreme measures. 2:49

Why experts are knocking Sask. premier’s claim vaccines don’t protect against

Premier Scott Moe’s recent pronouncement that vaccines no longer prevent the transmission of COVID-19 continues to reverberate within Saskatchewan.

Moe first made the comments in a weekend statement regarding the pandemic protest in Ottawa and elaborated on them Monday at a news conference.

“The bottom line of all of this is that vaccines do work, but they are no longer working at preventing transmission in this wave of COVID 19, like they previously did in the Delta wave at which they were quite effective,” said Moe.

Experts say that although the Omicron variant has demonstrated a degree of vaccine evasiveness not previously seen in the pandemic, it doesn’t mean the shots are completely ineffective in preventing transmission. In addition, multiple studies have demonstrated that boosters have offered durable protection in preventing serious illness or hospitalization even in the face of Omicron.

“He’s spewing basically nonsense,” said Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan.

At the core of the premier’s apparent misunderstanding is that there are similar total numbers of unvaccinated and vaccinated people getting COVID-19.

“The new cases that we have in this province are roughly about the same in vaccinated and unvaccinated people here in Saskatchewan,” Moe said.

The premier’s decision to view the data as only whole numbers is what experts commonly refer to as a base rate fallacy, as he is not taking the respective denominators of the unvaccinated and vaccinated into account.

In other words, while 249 of 372 COVID-hospitalizations recently in Saskatchewan were of those who had been vaccinated, there are 897,000 vaccinated provincial residents and 234,000 not fully vaccinated in the province. The rate of hospitalization of 123 out of 234,000 represents 53 of every 100,000 residents for the unvaccinated and 28 per 100,000 for the vaccinated (that, is 249 hospitalizations out of a pool of 897,000).

As well, looking at the flat numbers without respect to age offers a limited view. Inoculation rates generally climb with each age cohort; in other words, several hospitalizations of those unvaccinated under the age of 65 could very well have been prevented with vaccine doses.

Still, the Saskatchewan government says it’s ready to align the approach to COVID-19 to that of other communicable diseases such as influenza. On Thursday, the province said it would soon end its long-running practice of providing daily COVID-19 data.

Instead, the province will issue weekly COVID-19 epidemiological reports on Thursdays. The weekly data will include new laboratory-confirmed cases, deaths, tests and vaccination information across the province and by each health zone.

Hospitalizations and ICU numbers were not included in the list of information that will be provided. It was not immediately clear if that data will no longer be shared with the public. A request to the Ministry of Health for clarification was not available at the time of this writing.

It’s a philosophical approach Saskatchewan tried once before, as did Alberta, in the summer of 2021. But the Delta wave soon struck both provinces hard, and Saskatchewan suffered its deadliest month of the pandemic in October, with 156 lives lost.

Hospital pressures acute across much of Atlantic Canada

As discussed in Wednesday’s newsletter, the provinces of Atlantic Canada have all dealt with restrictions that curtailed movement and societal activity throughout the pandemic. Its individual provinces each experienced their deadliest months in terms of COVID-19 loss of life in the month that just passed.

Nova Scotia Health says logistical challenges are currently considerable as some hospitals across the province are exceeding their patient capacity and have occasionally had no room for new admissions. The system’s overall capacity was at 104 per cent on Tuesday.

The province has delayed some surgeries and procedures to deal with rising case counts in the community and among health-care staff during the pandemic.

At Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney, one department was physically relocated within the hospital to make more room and the entire ambulatory care department was moved to Glace Bay Memorial Hospital. Meanwhile, the Strait Richmond Hospital emergency room in Cleveland was closed on Monday as it was at capacity, with staffing shortages.

“Moving patients across the zone or across the entire province would have probably not been something that we would have considered maybe in the past as much, but it’s certainly something we’ve had to respond with,” said Brett MacDougall, an executive with Nova Scotia Health.

In the most recent provincial update, 13 people stricken with COVID-19 were said to be receiving ICU treatment, not far off the peak monthly average of 15 per day in May 2021.

In Prince Edward Island, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison announced on Wednesday that there are 15 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including two people in intensive care, as staffing challenges are having an impact on non-urgent health-care needs in Charlottetown.

New Brunswick went through the first 18 months of the pandemic averaging no more than 15 COVID-19 patients on a given day, but that number has jumped in the past four months, with an average of 105 hospitalized patients throughout January. The number currently hospitalized is at a pandemic record 165, although the province said Thursday intensive care unit admissions decreased slightly, to 14 persons.

There are 20 people hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, with seven in intensive care. The province also reported its 45th coronavirus death of the pandemic.

But conditions are such that the province is moving to a modified version of Alert Level 3 of its tiered system effective Monday, which will loosen some restrictions and raise capacity levels in many cases, although still at levels not close to 100 per cent.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said officials will monitor the data carefully after the changes go in effect.

“We are all tired of this pandemic and the restrictions, and I can relate, believe me,” she said. “But we need to pace ourselves. The last thing anyone wants is to have a setback in the final mile because we moved too fast.”

COVID-19 deaths in the 6 populated continents during the pandemic

4 continents overall have experienced the most deaths per million at a given point in time.

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