The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Jan. 20

  • Coronavirus tracker: Follow the spread of COVID-19 as cases rise in much of Canada.
  • New Brunswick hospitals facing capacity issues despite only 1 hospitalized COVID-19 patient.
  • Traveller who was supposed to be quarantining in southern Manitoba fined $1,750 for leaving province.
  • Trudeau insists vaccination effort is on track despite Pfizer-BioNTech supply disruption.
  • Read more: Inside a Windsor ICU as exhausted staff fight 2nd COVID wave knowing worse is still ahead; What’s different about the coronavirus ‘variants of concern’ flagged by WHO.

From left, U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, Jill Biden, vice-president-elect Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff arrive at the steps of the U.S. Capitol ahead of the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. The event was scaled down due to COVID-19 and security concerns. (Melina Mara/Pool/Reuters)

Fake COVID notification apps and websites aim to steal money and personal data

Thousands of fake Canadian government websites, emails and apps that take advantage of the pandemic to try to mine personal data or steal money have been taken down in the last few months, according to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security.

The centre leads the federal government’s response to cybersecurity events, defends Ottawa’s cyber assets and provides advice to Canadian industries, businesses and citizens about how to protect themselves online.

Evan Koronewski, a spokesperson for the centre, said over email the fraudulent websites are impersonating the government of Canada to “deliver fake COVID-19 exposure notification applications, designed to install malware on users devices.” Those programs were created to steal personal information or money, Koronewski said.

Since March 15, the centre has helped remove more than 4,000 such fraudulent sites or email addresses, and the work is ongoing, he said. In some cases the sites were pretending to be the Public Health Agency of Canada or the Canada Revenue Agency.

While Koronewski couldn’t say how many Canadians have been taken in by these particular scams, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, a separate federal organization, said between March 6, 2020, and Jan. 10, 2021, there were 8,583 Canadian victims of a wide range of COVID-19 fraud.

Those included everything from people buying fake vaccines and COVID test kits, to identity theft and ransomware attacks. In total, COVID-19 fraud has cost Canadians $7 million, according to the anti-fraud centre’s website.

The government of Canada’s legitimate COVID Alert app launched in July in Ontario before rolling out in other provinces (currently Alberta and British Columbia are the only provinces that haven’t adopted it). Cybersecurity experts say anyone looking to download that COVID Alert app should only do so from trusted app stores.

In general, people need to carefully review the terms and conditions of an app before they install it, said Arash Habibi Lashkari, an assistant professor and research co-ordinator at the University of New Brunswick’s Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity.

People should also consider what systems an app wants permission to access on their phone or computer, and determine if that matches up with what the app is supposed to do. If you download photo editing software, for instance, and it wants access to your telephone contact list, that should raise some red flags, he said.

Click below to watch more from The National

Specific details about workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 are not made public in most of Canada. Toronto is starting to make the information available, arguing that transparency increases accountability, but others wonder whether ‘naming and shaming’ does more harm than good. 2:02


New Brunswick hospitals facing capacity issues despite only 1 hospitalized COVID-19 patient

Almost every hospital in New Brunswick is either over its target occupancy rate for the orange level of COVID-19 recovery, or very close to it, figures from the two regional health authorities show. That is despite only one COVID-19 patient in the province being hospitalized, as of Tuesday.

Horizon Health Network and Vitalité Health Network did not respond to a request from CBC News for red-level occupancy rate targets, but five of the 15 hospitals are operating at overcapacity for any phase, with one as high as 150 per cent. The health-care system’s ability to respond to COVID-19 patients is one of the triggers considered for moving to another phase of recovery.

The Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton regions have been bumped to the more restrictive red level from orange, as of midnight Tuesday. “We’re simply not making enough progress with the current measures that are in place,” Premier Blaine Higgs said during a COVID-19 news briefing Tuesday. “We know there are more cases in these zones that exist but have not yet tested positive. And we cannot take the risk of potentially overwhelming our hospitals.”

The Horizon hospitals in the three largest cities in these zones all have inpatient occupancy rates hovering around the orange-level target of between 85 per cent and 90 per cent. The Moncton Hospital is at 87 per cent capacity, the Saint John Regional Hospital, 96 per cent and the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton is at 92 per cent.

“Even a small number of new admissions can have a ripple effect throughout our health-care system, as we continue to balance high inpatient occupancy rates with limitations on staffing resources,” Geri Geldart, vice-president clinical, said in an emailed statement prior to the announcement to move the three zones to red. “Our priority is to ensure as many surgeries as possible can continue while also preserving ICU and other beds in the event of a COVID-related surge.”

Read more on the situation in New Brunswick

Traveller who was supposed to be quarantining in southern Manitoba fined $1,750 for leaving province

A southern Manitoba resident has been fined $1,750 after travelling abroad, returning to Canada and then travelling outside the province before the 14-day federal quarantine period was up. The Altona Police Service issued the ticket on Jan. 5 for failing to comply with the conditions of an order governing re-entry into Canada.

During a routine checkup on a Plum Coulee resident who returned from international travel, Altona police learned from a family member the resident had left Manitoba, Chief Perry Batchelor said.

“It was determined that the person that was supposed to be quarantining was, in fact, in another province,” he said Tuesday. “Our officers conducted a quick investigation to determine that that was in fact the case, and when this person returned from their trip to another province, they were issued a ticket under the Quarantine Act.”

A spokesperson for Manitoba Justice said this is one of two cases of federal Quarantine Act violations the province is aware of in recent weeks. The ticket was disclosed in an internal provincial memo that also listed a series of provincial pandemic violations during the week of Jan. 4 to Jan. 10.

That same memo noted provincial enforcement staff issued a large number of warnings to retailers at Winnipeg’s Polo Park, Garden City and Regent Avenue shopping nodes — as well as in Selkirk and Steinbach. The province declined to say whether enforcement teams will focus on these areas after retail restrictions are expected to be eased Saturday as part of a proposed new public health measure.

Read more on COVID-19 enforcement efforts in Manitoba

Trudeau insists vaccination effort is on track despite Pfizer-BioNTech supply disruption

Despite a significant short-term gap in deliveries of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s still confident the country is on track to vaccinate every Canadian who wants a shot by September.

“This situation with the Pfizer delay is temporary. Our vaccination objectives for the first quarter of the year, January to March, are not changing,” Trudeau said from the steps of Rideau Cottage on Tuesday. “The total number of doses committed to us is still the same.”

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics for the federal government, said Canada will only get 82 per cent of the vaccine doses it expected this week, and no deliveries at all from Pfizer-BioNTech next week, before shipments resume in the last week of January. “Pfizer continues to tell us that they expect to be able to deliver up to four million of doses of Pfizer vaccine by the end of this quarter, so by the end of March,” he said.

Pfizer issued a public statement Tuesday saying that the company is looking to ramp up vaccine production and deliver up to two billion doses over 2021 and is therefore scaling up manufacturing operations in its facility in Puurs, Belgium.

“As a result, there will be a temporary impact on some shipments until mid-February in order to quickly enable increased production volumes afterwards,” the statement said.

Read more about the vaccine supply disruption

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.


Why are two doses necessary for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines?

Official guidelines say the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is meant to be given as two doses, 21 days apart, while Moderna recommends spacing doses 28 days apart. The guidelines for dosing intervals are based on each manufacturer’s clinical trial data, showing that the vaccines were most effective sometime after people got both rounds.

Vaccine efficacy for Pfizer-BioNTech’s option was around 95 per cent after both doses; for Moderna’s it was around 94 per cent following the second dose. (Certain high-risk groups weren’t part of those clinical trials, however, including anyone pregnant or immunocompromised.)

While research suggests there may be some level of protection from even just one shot, the consensus in Canada is that following guidelines based on the clinical trial data — as closely as possible — is the best bet to ensure people are protected.

“We also do not know how long lasting the protection will be,” said Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, during a briefing last week. “We know it’s better with two doses, but with one single dose, we are not sure.”

Read more answers to common questions about the COVID-19 vaccines here.


From apps to podcasts, COVID-19 has forced language learning online

Aly Murphy shows off one of her Russian-language lessons on the Duolingo app. She is one of many Canadians who’ve decided to learn a new language online during the pandemic. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Aly Murphy is one of the many Canadians who have flocked to language podcasts, apps like Duolingo and Zoom-based classes over the past year, as the pandemic limits in-person instruction and gives people freedom to pursue interests online.

“I don’t know if I’d have committed to it as fiercely as I have,” said the University of Ottawa theatre student who wanted to read famous Russian playwrights like Anton Chekhov without relying on translations. “The Duolingo streak system is definitely a compelling reason to keep doing it, because now, I’m at a 340-day streak or whatever — and if I ever lose that, I’ll be heartbroken.”

But when it comes to what the new virtual approach means for language acquisition in the long run, it’s still an open question. “Some people like it better online. Some people miss the human interaction, because it’s of course a bit less personal,” said Samuel Coeytaux, director of Alliance Française Ottawa.

According to Coeytaux, courses at his French-language school remain full, even though there hasn’t been a single in-person class since last March. He said that’s led to positive developments — like students signing up from across Ontario, even Montreal — but also negative ones, including a halt to the cultural immersion Alliance Française prides itself on.

Missing out on French-language breakfasts won’t necessarily hamper one’s ability to learn a language, but those sorts of experiences convey traditions and elements of day-to-day life that can’t always be picked up via an app or in the classroom, said Jeffrey Steele, associate professor in the department of language studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

“The best language-learning is one in which the learners are actively engaging with fluent speakers — whether they be more advanced learners or native speakers, and particularly doing authentic tasks,” Steele said. Still, he notes those tasks do include things like writing emails or chatting online, which may actually be more suited to the new virtual learning environment Canadians find themselves in.

Read more on language learning during a pandemic

Find out more about COVID-19

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