The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Dec. 14

Canada wasn’t the only country beginning its vaccination campaign on Monday. At the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., nurse Annabelle Jimenez, left, congratulates critical nurse Sandra Lindsay after Lindsay was the first in the U.S. to be inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. (Mark Lennihan/Reuters)

‘V Day’ as COVID-19 vaccinations begin in Canada

Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign kicked off on Monday with vaccinations within the same hour in Quebec City and Toronto on Monday morning, a major milestone in the fight against the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 464,000 people and left more than 13,400 people dead nationally.

Gisèle Lévesque, an 89-year-old resident of a long-term care facility in Quebec City, was vaccinated using Pfizer-BioNTech’s just-arrived formula before a small crowd of health-care workers. She smiled after receiving the shot and was given a round of applause.

Anita Quidangen, a personal support worker at from Toronto’s Rekai Centre, was also cheered as she became the first person in Ontario to receive the vaccine, which was authorized for use last week by Health Canada. The shot was administered at a site in the University Health Network, the exact location of which is being withheld for security reasons, the province says.

Retired general Rick Hillier, who is leading Ontario’s vaccine task force, said the number of vaccinations that will take place in the province Monday is “probably pretty small,” but he said it’s still significant — especially for health-care workers and others who have been at the front line of the pandemic for months.

“This is V-Day,” he told CBC News Network early Monday, before the first dose was given.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this month up to 250,000 Pfizer doses will arrive in Canada before year’s end. Those receiving the vaccine will require a follow-up shot weeks later.

In addition, a decision is nearing in the coming days in both Canada and the United States on authorization for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Click below to watch more from The National

Two infectious disease specialists answer viewer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, including if it will be safe for pregnant women and if vaccinated people can still spread the virus to others. 6:04

IN BRIEF

Looking at which Canadians should be the focus of next stage of vaccination

Some researchers suggest that by the second stage of the countrywide vaccination campaign, once more doses are available, the strategy should focus on preventing spread, not necessarily inoculating the most vulnerable.

“Once … we’ve covered the vulnerable groups, they should seriously consider prioritizing according to contacts and vaccinating either demographic groups or even individuals who have more contacts,” said Chris Bauch, a University of Waterloo professor of applied math who helped develop a computer model to determine the best vaccine deployment.

Bauch said he agrees with NACI’s first-stage strategy of targeting the vulnerable. Indeed, his own research found if vaccination starts sufficiently early in 2021, vaccinating individuals 60 years of age and older will prevent the most deaths.

By the second stage, a switch in strategy that would focus on vaccinating people who have many contacts would be prudent to reduce the risk of them potentially spreading the virus to others.

“At some point, more deaths can be prevented through indirect protection instead of direct protection,” he recently wrote for the website The Conversation, which publishes articles from the academic and research community.

That appears to be at odds with recommendations put forward by Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), which makes recommendations on the use of newly approved vaccines. It says that after the first stage of the vaccine rollout, those who have risked their lives during the pandemic, such as essential workers and first responders, should be inoculated.

Caroline Quach-Thanh, the chair of NACI, said that when it comes to deciding whether to first vaccinate individuals who are more likely to spread the virus or those who are most likely to die of COVID-19, it’s important to consider what we know about a vaccine’s efficacy at curbing transmission.

Currently, there is not enough data to show that Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine prevents transmission of the virus, she said.

Read more about the considerations 

Canada Revenue Agency sends ‘education letters’ to Canadians who may have to repay pandemic CERB benefits

According to federal figures, 8.9 million Canadians applied for Canada emergency response benefits beginning in the spring after a pandemic was declared. The latest figures from the Canada Revenue Agency indicate nearly five per cent of applicants have received letters saying they may not be eligible and could be forced to repay benefits.

That’s because the CRA has sent out 441,000 ‘education letters,’ as it characterizes them, to Canadians. The letters were sent to those for whom the agency said it was “unable to confirm … employment and/or self-employment income of at least $5,000 in 2019, or in the 12 months prior to the date of their application” — one of the key criteria for the CERB program.

Many of those affected have argued that the federal government never clearly defined how the $5,000 amount would be calculated.

A CRA spokesperson told CBC News recently: “To be clear, there has been no change to this position during the lifecycle of the CERB.” The CRA also said the employment income requirement has been publicized on Canada.ca “since the beginning” on a Q&A page for self-employed and independent workers.

However, a CBC News search of archived internet pages shows that information was added sometime after April 21 — well over a month after some CERB applicants had applied.

The CRA says that not everyone who receives a letter will be required to repay their CERB benefits. Recipients are encouraged to complete their 2020 tax returns to help the CRA correctly identify the benefits and credits to which they are entitled.

The letter says that those who do owe CERB money are encouraged to repay by Dec. 31. A CRA spokesperson tells CBC News this is for tax filing purposes, not a repayment deadline.

Read more about the confusion 

Dozens of Canadian military members help beleaguered First Nations community in Manitoba battle virus

Canadian Armed Forces members are out in force in northern Manitoba to deal with an outbreak after having arrived in a Hercules military aircraft with dozens more soldiers and medics from Edmonton. They were unloading personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies.

Their arrival comes after Shamattawa First Nations chief Eric Redhead issued a plea for help from the federal government in late November. With a population of about 1,300 people, it is the hardest-hit Manitoba community, with recent coronavirus test positivity rates hovering between 70 and 80 per cent.

The first group of soldiers arrived on Dec. 6, while a second wave arrived Sunday night, bringing the total number to almost 60.

The troops will do wellness checks, deliver food hampers and conduct contact tracing. They will also help to relieve people who have been supervising at a makeshift isolation centre at a local school. In a bid to halt the spread of the illness, those who have tested positive and can’t isolate at home properly have been asked to go to the school, with some sleeping in empty classrooms.

“Literally, the entire community is a contact, right, because we’re so confined. We have one school, one grocery store,” said Redhead.

There is a mandatory curfew in place in the community from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., which restricts movement. If residents break it, they’re fined $200.

Volunteer Shannahan Redhead, 22, said it’s been a struggle to get residents to co-operate.

“No one wants to stay home, right, and they want to go out and see their families,” he said.

Community leaders are thankful that while some residents are hospitalized in Winnipeg, so far there have been no fatalities yet attributable to the virus.

Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

Once someone is vaccinated, do they still have to wear a mask and physically distance?

Dr. Zain Chagla, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University and an infectious disease physician in Hamilton, Ont., says that, in the short-term, those who’ve been inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine should mask up and physically distance for two reasons.

The first is, during such a large immunization, not everyone will get vaccinated at the same time. Some will be vaccinated while others are still waiting and need to be protected by wearing masks, physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and other safety measures.

“Plus, it takes time for the immune response to actually build up and kick in,” Chagla added.

Given that the vaccines will be rolled out in a step-wise fashion starting with the most vulnerable populations, the health-care workers who serve them and then scaling up to the general public, Dr. Tasleem Nimjee, an emergency department physician in Toronto, suspects that we’ll see a parallel drawing back on public health measures such as wearing masks and staying apart.

“It’s not going to be a sort of, ‘Now we can all take off our masks,'” Nimjee said on a recent town hall broadcast by The National.

Instead, the shedding of masks will be a more gradual process, she said.

Read more answers to reader and viewer questions on COVID-19 here.

AND FINALLY…

Uganda national park reopens to tourists, with close monitoring of virus-susceptible mountain gorillas

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda is home to about 450 mountain gorillas, one of just a few countries where the animals, susceptible to respiratory infections, currently dwell. (Lily Martin/CBC News)

Lily Martin/CBC News https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/uganda-mountain—gorillas

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda is home to about 450 mountain gorillas, one of just a few countries where the animals, susceptible to respiratory infections, currently dwell. (Lily Martin/CBC News)

To date, COVID-19 has been found in dogs, cats, lions, tigers and minks, and the virus that causes the diseases is thought to have originated in bats.

The risk of transmission of COVID-19 from humans to gorillas is a serious concern, especially in places such as Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda, where almost half the world’s mountain gorilla population — around 450 in all — can be found. The animals are particularly susceptible to respiratory infections.

Veterinarian Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka has dedicated her life’s work to the protection of the mountain gorillas in Uganda, which has had more than 26,300 cases of the coronavirus and 220 deaths.

“We share over 98 per cent genetic material and can easily make each other sick,” she said during a recent visit to the park by Lily Martin of CBC News. “If COVID-19 was to get into the gorillas, of course, they can’t social distance, the whole group would be wiped out.”

Some of Uganda’s mountain gorillas have been habituated to the presence of humans so that tourists and guides can get close enough to track and observe them. Uganda’s borders have recently reopened to tourists after being shut in March because of the pandemic. In a normal year, the 331-square kilometre park sees an average of 20,000 visitors.

In addition to universal mitigation measures like mask-wearing and temperature checks, a 10-metre distance from the gorillas is now being enforced at the park, increasing the pre-lockdown distance by three metres.

“Tourism is a necessary evil, but it needs to be done in a very responsible way,” says Kalema-Zikusoka.

Read more about the virus threat for gorillas

Find out more about COVID-19

Still looking for more information on the pandemic? Read more about COVID-19’s impact on life in Canada, or reach out to us at covid@cbc.ca if you have any questions.

If you have symptoms of the illness caused by the coronavirus, here’s what to do in your part of the country.

For full coverage of how your province or territory is responding to COVID-19, visit your local CBC News site.

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