The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Dec. 21

A woman poses Monday in front of a 2021 display that will be placed atop a building for New Year’s Eve in Times Square in Manhattan. A televised New Year’s Eve ceremony will still take place in New York City on Dec. 31 with musical guests, but no public audience. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Ontario to enter province-wide lockdown on Boxing Day, postpone return of in-person classes

All of Ontario will move into a lockdown on Boxing Day in a bid to curb climbing COVID-19 case numbers and spare hospitals and their intensive care units from being inundated in January, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.

The lockdown will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26 and remain in place until at least Jan. 23, 2021, in the 27 public health units that comprise southern Ontario, the government says. In Ontario’s north, where daily case numbers have been significantly lower, the lockdown is set to expire on Jan. 9, 2021.

Under the lockdown, schools in southern Ontario will switch to remote learning when classes resume in the new year. Elementary schools will be closed for in-class learning until at least Jan. 11, while secondary schools will remain closed until Jan. 25. All public and private schools — both elementary and secondary — in northern Ontario would be permitted to resume in-person learning on Jan. 11.

Ford said the virus is spreading rapidly from areas with a high number of cases to areas with fewer cases, and the province needs to preserve capacity in its health-care system.

“This difficult action is without a doubt necessary to save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks,” he said.

The measures come against a backdrop of projections detailed by public health officials at a briefing before Ford spoke. Ontario could see up to 300 patients with cases of COVID-19 in intensive care units by the end of December, the officials said, with a worst-case scenario of more than 1,500 by mid-January — about 75 per cent of Ontario’s entire intensive care capacity.

During the height of the first wave of the illness in Ontario, some 264 patients required intensive care. As of Monday morning, there were 265 people with COVID-19 in Ontario ICUs.

While the shutdown will begin days after Christmas, Ford again urged Ontarians to not gather for the holidays so as to avoid “catastrophic” consequences for the health-care system.

When asked why Ontario is waiting until Dec. 26 to start the lockdown, Ford said he wants to give businesses ample time to prepare, while noting that the hardest-hit, most populous areas, like Toronto and Peel Region, are already under lockdown orders.

Click below to watch more from The National

An infectious disease specialist answers viewer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine including whether it will protect people against new variants and should seniors outside of long-term care be next to be vaccinated. 3:53

IN BRIEF

Britain tries to reassure neighbours, allies after new virus variant emerges there

Countries across the world including Canada have halted air travel to the United Kingdom while France has banned trucks from entering for a period of 48 hours while a new coronavirus variant is assessed.

Most of the perishable goods coming into Britain from France arrive in trucks. The confusion over the new regulations was adding to long backups on both sides at a time when traffic was already being snarled by Christmas-related traffic and uncertainty over Britain’s future trade relationship with the European Union.

British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said France’s ban was “slightly surprising,” but tried to calm nerves by noting that the majority of Britain’s trade was not affected.

France’s Minister of Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari indicated in a tweet that “in the coming hours, at a European level, we will put a solid health protocol in place so that the flow from the United Kingdom can resume.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday about the border closure. “We had a very good call, and we both understand each other’s positions and want to resolve these problems as fast as possible,” Johnson said at a news conference.

Johnson announced Saturday he was placing London and the southeast of England in a new Tier 4 level of restrictions after a warning from its scientific advisers that it had detected a new variant of the coronavirus that may be more contagious.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Monday that while preliminary analysis in the U.K. suggests the new variant is “significantly more transmissible,” there is no indication that infections are more severe. Experts, however, have stressed that even if the new strain is not more lethal, it’s inevitable that more cases will lead to more hospitalizations and subsequent virus-related deaths.

Read more about the scientific questions surrounding the new variant further down in this newsletter.

Follow the latest developments in Britain  

COVID-19 comorbidities are common and not always visible

One of the leading comorbidities for both heart attacks and COVID-19 is high blood pressure — or hypertension — but that’s also because it’s one of the most common, and most deadly, conditions a person can have.

Ross Tsuyuki, professor and chair of the pharmacology department at the University of Alberta and president of Hypertension Canada, says globally around one in four people, or 1.4 billion, have hypertension.

Unlike other potentially deadly conditions, it’s not obvious on sight that someone has it.

“You could be walking around with it and you wouldn’t know it unless you measure your blood pressure. And that’s kind of the problem. It sort of flies under the radar because it doesn’t have any symptoms,” he said.

While the coronavirus has exacted a toll on older and vulnerable populations, cases exist in which physically fit adults experienced a difficult time with the virus.

Daniel Niven, an ICU physician and assistant professor in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, said Albertans who view themselves as being “otherwise healthy” should know that COVID-19 is “non-selective in who it really impacts most severely.”

“There are the occasional patients who come in who don’t really fit within those prediction models that get severe COVID-19,” he said.

Candace Cook, a wife and mother who lives in Edmonton and has been living with cancer for almost a decade, said it’s been frustrating to see people try to skirt COVID-19 restrictions because they view themselves as being “otherwise healthy.”

“I just wish everybody would stop, pause, take a minute and think about how their actions might affect other people,” she says.

Read more about the common comorbidities  

Military personnel prepare to spend Christmas in remote communities fighting COVID-19

Armed with ration packs, personal protective equipment and tents, members of the Canadian Armed Forces are preparing to spend Christmas deployed in isolated and remote northern communities due to the pandemic.

The military is currently deployed in at least six remote Indigenous communities in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Brig.-Gen. William Fletcher, who is in charge of all army troops from Thunder Bay to Vancouver Island and domestic operations on the Prairies, said military pandemic response plans made prior to the arrival of COVID-19 in Canada have put the Armed Forces in good shape.

But he admitted that all things considered, it’s an unusual situation.

“If you’d asked me a couple years ago, I would not have in my wildest dreams imagined that this was the situation we’d find ourselves in,” he says.

Brig.-Gen. Fletcher said he doesn’t expect the military to set up field hospitals in isolated communities this winter.

“I think if we did it would be very much an extremely dire situation, where we exhausted all other resources at the federal and provincial levels,” he says.

Indigenous soldiers have been instrumental in preparing their colleagues to go to reserves, added Fletcher.

“They are tremendous even for informally being able to provide some realities to folks who’ve not experienced interactions with a First Nations community.”

Read more about the deployments  

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

What’s known about the coronavirus variant seen extensively in Britain

A new variant of the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, referred to by some experts as the B.1.1.7 lineage, is not the first new variant of the pandemic virus to emerge in 2020, but is said to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the United Kingdom, based on modelling.

That has led to concerns about spread throughout Europe and the world, with travel restrictions announced by a host of countries, including Canada.

“The new B.1.1.7 … still appears to have all the human lethality that the original had, but with an increased ability to transmit,” said Martin Hibberd, a professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The main worry is that the variant is significantly more transmissible than the original. It has 23 mutations in its genetic code — a relatively high number of changes — and some of these are affecting its ability to spread. Some of the mutations are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells. That spike is what current vaccines target. The U.K. government said on Saturday it could increase the reproduction R rate by 0.4.

A cause for concern occurs when a virus mutates by changing the proteins on its surface to help it escape from drugs or the immune system.

Experts say COVID-19 vaccines appeared to be adequate in generating an immune response to this variant of the coronavirus.

“We are not seeing … any gross changes in the spike protein that will reduce vaccine effectiveness so far,” said Julian Tang, professor and clinical virologist at Leicester University.

AND FINALLY…

The pandemic has taken its toll on some friendships, CBC readers say

COVID-19 has forced an unprecedented level of disclosure on friendships, with people juggling to manage social bubbles, a patchwork of guidelines and frequently shifting restrictions. (Ben Nelms/CBC News)

Dozens of people responded to a CBC News request about tales of friendships strained and lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has forced an unprecedented level of disclosure on friendships, with people juggling to manage social bubbles, different views of personal responsibility and frequently shifting restrictions on gatherings — a potent mix in an already turbulent year.

One man wrote about confronting a childhood friend after finding out he’d hosted a party with dozens of guests in a small apartment. One woman said she cut off a friend who refused to quarantine after travelling, tested positive for the virus and spread it to several others.

Most people said they wanted their story shared but didn’t want their named used, for fear of causing more damage.

“People have conflicting desires to be good friends and to accommodate other people’s wishes, but also a desire to follow the rules,” said Lara Aknin, an associate professor of social psychology at Simon Fraser University.

Tammy Chesman, 50, made the decision to delete Instagram earlier in the year, saying she was getting riled up by the number of people whose social lives and travel itineraries did not appear to slow down despite the pandemic.

Chesman, who lives in B.C., said she didn’t want to be the “judgy friend” — but the stakes of saying nothing felt incredibly high.

“You can’t tell people how to live their lives and you don’t want to be the person that’s wagging your finger, but on the other hand, people are dying,” she said.

Read more of what CBC readers had to say

 

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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