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COVID live updates: Cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the decline in Quebec

Quebec offers fourth vaccine dose to people 18-59, but offers little guidance on who should get it.

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Updated throughout the day on Thursday, May 5. Questions/comments: ariga@postmedia.com

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Top updates

  • Université de Montréal to drop mask requirement on May 14
  • In U.S., CDC offers guidance for people 50+ considering a second booster
  • Quebec offers fourth vaccine dose to people 18-59, but offers little guidance on who should get it
  • EU regulator hopes to approve COVID variant-adapted vaccines by autumn
  • Quebec reports 18 additional deaths, 57-patient drop in hospitalizations
  • It’s too soon to stop wearing masks in Quebec, health experts say
  • Federal government must do more to fight spread of disinformation, polarization on Facebook, Twitter: CSIS director
  • U.S. summer travellers can expect long lines, higher prices as COVID restrictions ease
  • Almost three times as many died as a result of COVID than officially reported: WHO
  • China’s COVID controls make EU firms consider shifting investments – chamber
  • Quebec COVID guide: Vaccinations, testing
  • Sign up for our free nightly coronavirus newsletter

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3 p.m.

China bolts people inside their homes to keep COVID at bay

Chinese officials are bolting residents shut inside their homes to prevent them from spreading COVID. Public health workers used wires to barricade doors and installed iron bolts in order to lock people in, according to videos circulating on Chinese social media.

Read our full story.


2:50 p.m.

Université de Montréal to drop mask requirement on May 14

The Université de Montréal today announced it will drop mandatory face coverings on campus as of May 14, the same day Quebec lifts the provincial mask mandate.

“Though wearing a mask is now a personal choice, the university will continue to distribute masks free of charge,” the institution said on its COVID page.

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Masks “will thus continue to be part of life on our campuses, where members of the community or visitors will want to wear them for their own protection or that of others. We ask for your collaboration in order to respect anyone who makes this choice.”

In an update published one week ago, the university had said that for the summer term, “masks must be worn at all times. They can only be removed in certain situations. This order could be changed during the semester.”

U de M’s summer term runs from May 2 to Aug. 12.

Montreal universities are taking different approaches to the mask issue.

McGill University has said it will lift its mask requirement on May 24, while Concordia University says masks will continue to be mandatory on campus until mid-August.

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The Université du Québec à Montréal’s COVID web page does not mention when masks will no longer be required on its campus.


2:30 p.m.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the decline in Quebec

The latest Quebec numbers indicate that the pandemic is continuing to ease.

Cases

At 1,350, the seven-day rolling average of daily PCR-confirmed cases is at its lowest point in six weeks

Hospitalizations

There are 2,119 COVID-positive patients in hospitals. That’s the lowest in three weeks.

Intensive care units

There are 64 COVID-positive patients in Quebec ICUs, the lowest level in a month

Deaths

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths reported is 19. That number has hovered around 20 over the past seven days, down from more than 25 the previous week.

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Health workers 

The number of health care workers absent due to COVID continues to decline. Yesterday, 7,506 were off work. A week ago, 9,377 were absent. Two weeks ago, 10,932 were unable to do their jobs.


1:40 p.m.

In U.S., CDC offers guidance for people 50+ considering a second booster

In the United States, second boosters are being offered to people age 50 and older, as well as anyone 12 and older who is “moderately or severely immunocompromised.”

Unlike in Canada, guidance is being provided to people wondering if they should get the additional shot.

“People in certain groups or situations can get a second COVID-19 booster,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

“If you’re in one of those groups or situations, it’s up to you whether to get a second booster right now, based on the benefits and risks the vaccine may provide to you. Your healthcare provider can help you review your options.”

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Helpfully, it also offers “factors to think about as you consider a second booster.”


1:40 p.m.

Quebec offers fourth vaccine dose to people 18-59, but offers little guidance on who should get it

Quebecers age 18 to 59 may be wondering whether they should get the fourth vaccine dose that Quebec offered to this age group yesterday.

The move goes beyond what the Quebec and federal immunization committees have recommended.

So far, the provincial Health Department has provided little guidance about who should consider getting this additional shot (also known as a second booster).

These shots were already available for Quebecers 60 and older, as well as people who are immunocompromised.

News that availability was being expanded to all adults (provided their last dose was administered at least three months earlier) came via a late afternoon tweet yesterday.

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“Second booster dose for 18-59-year-olds: it’s now possible to make an appointment on Clic Santé,” the Health Department said on Twitter. “There is no Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec recommendation for this age group (with exceptions) but it is possible to administer it to those who wish to receive it. There are no contraindications.”

That was the extent of the government’s communication on the issue. The province’s vaccination website has not been updated to reflect the change.

Here’s a look at what Quebec has said about boosters doses over the past six weeks:

March 24

The Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec (CIQ), which provides vaccination guidance to the province, publishes recommendations, advising that a small segment of the population should get the extra shot this spring.

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They included residents of congregate settings such as long-term care homes (CHSLDs) and private seniors’ residences, people age 80 and older who live in the community, as well as the immunocompromised and “highly vulnerable people who reside in isolated and remote communities.”

The CIQ said Quebec should plan a larger booster vaccination campaign starting sometime between early September and mid-October.

March 29

Quebec announces the start of the second-booster campaign for residents of CHSLDs and private seniors’ residences and people 80 and older who live in the community.

April 5

Quebec announces that people 60 and older can start booking second boosters.

Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s interim public health director, acknowledges that the step goes further than CIQ guidelines, but said he believes it’s necessary in order to shield some of the province’s more vulnerable residents.

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“It’s a question of being prudent and adapting to the current circumstances,” he said, noting three-quarters of those hospitalized with the virus in Quebec are at least 60 years old.

“It will offer an additional protection to people who are more vulnerable because of their age, and also for those who would feel more comfortable knowing they have an additional dose.”

On the same day, the federal vaccination body – the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) – issues “initial guidance” on second boosters.

It recommends the additional shot be given to people 80 and older in the community as well as to residents of long-term care or other congregate living settings for seniors.

NACI added: “While the greatest benefit is expected in adults 80 years of age and older, jurisdictions may also consider offering a second COVID-19 booster dose to adults 70-79 years of age living in the community.”

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That was the last second-booster guidance provided by NACI.

May 5

Quebec offers second boosters to anyone 18 and older.


12:05 p.m.

EU regulator hopes to approve COVID variant-adapted vaccines by autumn

From the Reuters news agency:

The European Union’s drug regulator said on Thursday it hoped to have vaccines adapted to address coronavirus variants, such as Omicron, approved by September.

“Our priority is to ensure that adaptive vaccines are possibly approved by September at the latest to be ready for the rollout of new immunization campaigns in the EU in the autumn,” said Marco Cavaleri, head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy at the European Medicines Agency.”This would allow manufacturers to adjust their production lines accordingly.”

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The mRNA vaccines, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are the furthest along, and clinical trials are ongoing.

Vaccine developers are investigating whether shots that target just one variant offer advantages over vaccines that target two variants, Cavaleri added, noting trial data was expected to come in over the next couple of months.

Moderna is developing a potential next-generation booster targeted at both the Omicron variant as well as the original strain of the coronavirus in the hope of producing broader protection. It expects the first trial data in June.

Meanwhile, at the end of March, BioNTech and Pfizer broadened their original trial program that prioritized a booster shot that targets only Omicron to also test a shot targeting Omicron and the original version of the coronavirus.

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According to Cavaleri, about half of all EU citizens are fully vaccinated and boosted, while 15 per cent of those over 18 have not received even one vaccine shot.


11:30 a.m.

Chart: Current situation vs. one year ago


11:30 a.m.

Charts: Quebec cases, deaths


11:30 a.m.

Charts: Quebec’s vaccination campaign


11:05 a.m.

Quebec reports 18 additional deaths, 57-patient drop in hospitalizations

Quebec has recorded 1,416 new cases of COVID-19, the provincial government announced this morning.

The case tally only includes people who received PCR tests at government screening clinics. It does not accurately reflect the number of cases since it does not include the results of home rapid tests.

In addition, 18 new deaths were reported, bringing the cumulative total to 15,084.

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Hospitalizations continue on a downward trajectory.

Today’s decline in intensive-care patients was the biggest one-day drop in three months. The number of COVID-positive patients in ICUs is at its lowest point in a month.

Some other key statistics from Quebec’s latest COVID-19 update:

  • Montreal Island: 283 cases, 3 deaths.
  • Net decrease in hospitalizations: 57, for total of 2,119 (150 entered hospital, 207 discharged).
  • Net decrease in intensive care patients: 14, for total of 64 (8 entered ICUs, 22 discharged).
  • 18,770 PCR tests conducted Tuesday.
  • 21,313 vaccine doses administered over previous 24 hours.

10:30 a.m.

It’s too soon to stop wearing masks in Quebec, health experts say

Quebec’s COVID-19 indicators may be heading in the right direction, but various health experts say it’s still too soon to ditch masks.

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Read our full story, by Katelyn Thomas.


10:30 a.m.

Federal government must do more to fight spread of disinformation, polarization on Facebook and Twitter: CSIS director

The spread of disinformation and polarization via social media is one of the biggest threats to social cohesion in Canada and the federal government needs to do more to fight it, says the head of Canada’s spy agency.

Read our full story.


9:35 a.m.

B.C. hiring more health-care staff as it wipes out surgery backlog: minister

From The Canadian Press:

British Columbia has almost caught up with the backlog of surgeries from the pandemic and weather events while it sets new targets to whittle down the existing waiting lists, says the province’s health minister.

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Adrian Dix said the whole system had performed exceptionally well, considering the circumstances of the pandemic and last year’s weather events.

“The word to use to describe our Year 2 performance is the same word used to describe our Year 1 performance: stunning,” he told a news conference Wednesday.

However, nurses and some doctors who perform what are classified as elective surgeries, said the push to wipe out the backlog has led to worker burnout, while the delay for procedures like hip and knee replacement has stretched into years.

The province had completed 99.8 per cent of surgeries that were postponed up to the fifth wave of COVID-19 and weather events such as the heatwave and floods last year, he said.

More than 52,000 urgent scheduled surgeries were completed last year, while another 72,549 unscheduled procedures were performed because Dix said the government greatly increased operating room hours.

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In May 2020, Dix said about 30,000 non-urgent scheduled surgeries had been postponed because of the pandemic.

Aman Grewal, president of the BC Nurses Union, said more surgeries were being added to waiting lists even while previous backlogs were being wiped out.

It’s a “perpetual list” that has urgent, critical and elective surgeries added to it, which is burning out nurses who’ve been dealing with an onslaught of patients from COVID-19, the overdose crisis and weather events, she said.

“There’s still people waiting on the surgical wait-lists and so the impact of that, trying to catch up, is absolutely something that we understand and needs to happen. But you know, (the system) is on the brink of being in collapse,” Grewal said.

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“Our nurses and health-care workers are burning out, they’re tired. They’ve been working around the clock.”


9:35 a.m.

U.S. summer travellers can expect long lines, higher prices as COVID restrictions ease

With more U.S. travellers expected to take to the skies and the roads this summer as COVID restrictions ease, unbridled demand will strain capacity in the leisure and travel industry and push prices even higher.

Read our full story.


9:35 a.m.

Almost three times as many died as a result of COVID than officially reported: WHO

Almost three times as many people have died as a result of COVID-19 as the official data show, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report, the most comprehensive look at the true global toll of the pandemic so far.

There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the U.N. body said on Thursday. The official count of deaths directly attributable to COVID-19 and reported to WHO in that period, from January 2020 to the end of December 2021, is slightly more than 5.4 million.

Read our full story.

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9:35 a.m.

China’s COVID controls makes EU firms consider shifting investments – chamber

European businesses in China are increasingly looking to shift their investments to other markets due to the country’s strict COVID-19 containment measures and supply chain disruptions, the European Chamber of Commerce in China said on Thursday.

Read our full story.


9:15 a.m.

Quebec COVID guide: Vaccinations, testing

Vaccinations

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Testing


8:30 a.m.

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ariga@postmedia.com

Read my previous live blogs here.


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