The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Dec. 3

The all-important College Scholastic Ability Test took place Thursday across South Korea, including in this Seoul classroom. More than 426,000 students were taking the one-day exam, including, in isolation, 41 who have tested positive for the coronavirus and hundreds of others in self-quarantine. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

National vaccine deployment plan calls for up to 205 vaccine distribution locations across Canada

Canadians heard extensively for the first time on Thursday from Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who has been tasked by the federal government with leading vaccination logistics and operations. While the country is facing unprecedented “logistical complexities,” the military and its partners will be ready to deploy COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they are approved in Canada, Fortin said.

The former NATO commander, along with the other public health officials who spoke at Thursday’s news conference, tried to provide assurances for the many questions still swirling in the air, including the cold storage capacities for feeding the supply chain given the temperature requirements of some of the vaccines.

Eventually, there will be 205 “points of issue” locations across the country where health-care professionals can administer the vaccine, Fortin said. It will be up to the provinces and territories to specify where and when individual Canadians will be inoculated.

The national operations centre has conducted one dry run scenario, with others planned. Fortin said exercises and planning have contemplated a number of possible complications, including treacherous winter delivery conditions, fires at distribution hubs and cyberattacks.

With respect to Pfizer’s vaccine, which needs to be kept at approximately -80 C to remain stable, Fortin said his team is in daily contact with the company and there have been no hiccups with Canada’s plans. The Pfizer product will be delivered by that company directly to provincial and territorial distribution points as early as the end of the month, he said, and the federal government has secured the cold storage required for this vaccine. In addition, the provinces have indicated where the Pfizer-specific fridges should be placed, according to Fortin.

The total supply of doses and prioritization of vaccine recipients will be key, ongoing questions. Government officials have previously said they hoped some three million people could get vaccinated through the first quarter of 2021, but Canada is not manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines and will rely on importing them through deals it’s struck with the pharmaceutical companies.

Health Canada has said its approval of at least one vaccine could come within the next two weeks, not long after U.S. regulators meet.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said the federal government is now refining who is best suited to first get a dose of a vaccine. Early guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) suggests seniors in long-term care homes and front-line health-care workers will be among the first to get a shot.

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IN BRIEF

Alberta planning for COVID-19 field hospitals, according to internal document

An Alberta Health Services document obtained by CBC News shows the province has been planning for more than a week to set up indoor field hospitals that could treat up to 750 COVID-19 patients.

The document dated Nov. 28 outlines plans for 375 beds each in Calgary and Edmonton for patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms. Patients requiring intensive care would remain in city hospitals.

The field hospitals draft plan underscores the severity of the public-health crisis Alberta faces — and provides a sobering sign of where officials believe the trajectory of virus infections could be headed. There were 504 people in hospitals and 97 in ICUs in Alberta on Wednesday. A total of 561 people in the province have died from the disease since the start of the pandemic.

The greatest challenge to making the hospitals operational by December or January would be staffing, and the document references potentially calling in the military to assist. Other logistical challenges would be building adequate toilet, shower and handwashing facilities at the proposed sites as well as determining whether an oxygen supply infrastructure could be established.

Dr. Noel Gibney, a veteran Edmonton critical-care doctor who has publicly criticized the government’s pandemic response, says the field hospital planning is sensible due diligence planning, but he said the government has clearly not told the public the degree of risk they are now facing while continuing with policies that downplay the risk.

“On one hand, we are having provincial planning at a disaster level or for an upcoming disaster,” he said. “And on the other hand, we are being told everything is fine.”

In addition, CBC News has learned through a source close to the federal government that Alberta has inquired with the Trudeau government and the Red Cross about supplying field hospitals to help offset the strain COVID-19 is having on the province’s health-care system.

Read more about what’s happening in Alberta 

Quebec cancels plans to allow Christmas gatherings as COVID-19 cases surge

Quebec Premier François Legault on Thursday backtracked on his plan to allow gatherings over the Christmas holiday period after a rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths that caused doctors at some hospitals to voice their concerns.

Legault said that gatherings in the province’s hard-hit “red zones,” which encompass most of the province, will be prohibited over the holidays.

“When we look at the situation, we are forced to realize that it is not realistic to think that we are going to succeed in reducing the progression of the virus in a satisfactory way by Christmas,” he said.

Legault announced last month that people would be allowed to gather in groups of 10 over a four-day period, from Dec. 24 through Dec. 27, if they isolated for a week before and after. He later said people should only gather twice during that period.

The province reported more than 1,500 daily cases for the first time ever on Wednesday, and more than 1,400 again Thursday.

“If we continue in this direction, hospitals will start to overflow. We have a limited number of nurses, and our nurses are very tired,” the premier said.

Legault did allow that Quebecers could individually visit a person living alone, particularly the elderly, over the holidays. But he stressed visitors in such circumstances need to be wearing masks, maintaining a two-metre distance and not staying very long. Visits to the province’s long-term care homes and seniors’ residences, however, will be prohibited — with the exception of caregivers.

Read more about the situation in Quebec

Dozens of internationally educated nurses are on the sidelines in Manitoba

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said recently a special designation will be granted to 39 internationally educated nurses waiting on English tests so they can practise in Manitoba and have the language requirement temporarily waived, but it’s not clear when that will happen.

Bhupinder Grewal, originally from India, is among the internationally educated nurses who’ve struggled and been inconvenienced by a recurring two-year English language test that is required for licensing. Both of the English tests that would be suitable to take are not being administered this year because of the pandemic.

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said it’s a shame the internationally educated nurses are unable to work because of a language test when they have otherwise shown the necessary skills through bridging tests to meet Canadian standards. The union says the nursing vacancy rate in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Shared Health combined is around 16 per cent.

“We are in a nursing shortage. We’re at a critical nursing shortage in many areas. We are desperate to have every possible nurse that can work in the system,” she said.

The Touchstone Institute, responsible for administering the Canadian English Language Benchmark Assessment for Nurses, says the two-year expiry date on the language requirement, is “based on the assumption that the measure of examinees’ capabilities at a given point in time may become less trustworthy indicators of those capabilities as time passes.”

When contacted by CBC for this story, Friesen’s office declined to comment, but said it will provide an update on the special designation soon.

Read more about the situation

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

Why children in Canada won’t immediately receive a COVID-19 vaccine

There is currently no human pediatric data for vaccine candidates to protect against COVID-19, although that could change in 2021.

Federal statistics show that at 8.1 million Canadians, children and teens make up one-fifth of the population. But younger immune systems are more active than those of adults, and children often show stronger immune reactions to vaccines in terms of side-effects.

“Children often will need either a slightly different formulation or a smaller dose of a vaccine, so it’s appropriate to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective in adults and then move on to that testing,” said Shannon MacDonald, an assistant professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Alberta who conducts public health research, including on vaccines.

Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s Meet the Press that it could take months before those younger than 18 in the U.S. general public could get a coronavirus vaccine, if approved by regulators.

Pfizer announced in October it was expanding vaccine testing to those 12 and older, while Moderna said this week it expects to test the vaccine on children between the ages of 12 and 17 in the coming weeks and on younger children in 2021. The developments are likely welcomed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which wrote an open letter to U.S. federal health officials to ensure children are not left out of vaccine efforts.

Although it’s far from guaranteed, it is possible adults will gain enough immunity from vaccinations that widespread vaccinations of children will not be necessary.

“Some vaccines contribute to herd immunity because the person who gets the vaccine doesn’t spread any infection,” says Dr. Joanne Langley of Dalhousie University, who is the co-leader of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine task force. “We don’t know for sure yet whether that occurs with the COVID vaccines and how effective it is.”

AND FINALLY…

From a tiny outport to a Vietnamese city, how one Newfoundlander is enduring the pandemic

Sabrina Pinksen, an artist, has been painting and drawing portraits for the last five years. She is shown with a Vietnamese security guard. (Submitted by Sabrina Pinksen)

Many Canadians who live abroad won’t be coming home for the holidays for safety reasons or because of the complications involved with travel quarantines, but Newfoundland and Labrador native Sabrina Pinksen is in one of the safest spots in the world, statistically speaking, with respect to the coronavirus.

Pinksen, who is originally from tiny Wild Cove, near the Baie Verte Peninsula, has been living in Hanoi since 2017. It’s a city nearly twice as populous as Canada’s biggest, but with one-third of the physical space.

But as of Wednesday, Vietnam has recorded 1,351 cases and 35 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the World Health Organization. Even if there was a moderate amount of underreporting, it would be a status that ranks favourably with any country in the world.

“I don’t even think about COVID, going out into my daily life,” Pinksen said. “It’s almost like it wasn’t real.”

Pinksen, who’s passionate about her art but earns her income teaching English through a school, said the disruptions that have occurred with daily life have actually led to more of a demand for her services, as some Vietnamese have more free time.

Unlike in North America, there is no cultural resistance to the most publicly visible mitigation measure. Pinksen said: “This is a mask-wearing country anyway. So even before COVID, a lot of people would wear masks.”

Pinksen is not able to travel to Canada for the holidays and admits to being homesick — it’s been 15 months since she’s been home and her father has a serious health issue.

But, she said, “I’m very grateful that everything in Newfoundland is OK right now.”

Read more about life in Vietnam during the pandemic 

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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