Politics

COVID live updates: Legault dogged by Herron questions on byelection day


Quebec reports six new deaths as hospitalizations approach 1,800. The number of COVID-positive patients jumped by 85 – the biggest one-day increase in almost three months.

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Updated throughout the day on Monday, April 11. Questions/comments: ariga@postmedia.com

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Top updates

  • Ontario expands access to PCR testing, Paxlovid amid sixth wave
  • Employees are ‘in the driver’s seat’: How employers are trying to lure people back to the office
  • Legault dogged by Herron questions on byelection day
  • Fixer says former Alberta justice minister hired him to get reporter’s phone logs after COVID story
  • Quebec reports six new deaths as hospitalizations approach 1,800
  • Open windows to reduce COVID risks: Health Canada
  • Quebecers 60 and up now eligible for fourth vaccines doses
  • Opinion: Why didn’t care improve after CIUSSS took over Herron?
  • Schools trying to contain COVID-19 spread as sixth wave rises in Quebec
  • Frustration over pandemic restrictions boosts Quebec Conservatives ahead of fall vote
  • ‘A huge rift’ – COVID response strains relationships in northern Alberta
  • Queen Elizabeth II says COVID left ‘one very tired and exhausted’
  • WHO says it is analyzing two new Omicron COVID sub-variants
  • Shanghai eases lockdown in some areas despite record COVID infections
  • Quebec COVID guide: Vaccinations, testing
  • Sign up for our free nightly coronavirus newsletter

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2 p.m.

Ontario expands access to PCR testing, Paxlovid amid sixth wave

From The Canadian Press:

Ontario is expanding eligibility for COVID-19 PCR testing and antiviral treatments amid a sixth wave, but the province’s top doctor says a broad mask mandate won’t be reinstated at this time.

The province says anyone 70 and older, people 60 and older with fewer than three doses of a COVID-19, and people 18 and older with fewer than three vaccine doses and at least one risk factor such as a chronic medical condition can now be tested and assessed for treatment.

Since January, the guidelines for access to the antiviral treatment Paxlovid, and as a result PCR testing, has been limited to immunocompromised adults, unvaccinated people aged 60 and over, and unvaccinated people aged 50 and over if they are First Nation, Inuit or Metis individuals or have one or more risk factors.

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Chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore says COVID-19 trends are rising and it’s clear Ontario is in a sixth wave driven by the BA.2 variant, and he says that will likely continue for several more weeks.

Moore says he will not be bringing back mandatory masking right now, though Ontarians should be prepared for that to return if a new variant of concern emerges, if the health-care system is threatened due to rising cases, and potentially during the winter months.

Moore says he strongly recommends people continue to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

Access to Paxlovid has largely been limited to clinical assessment centres and primary care providers, but the province says participating pharmacies will start dispensing Paxlovid this week.

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A positive result for COVID-19 on a PCR or rapid test is required to be assessed for antiviral treatment, and it must be started within five days of symptom onset.

Moore held his first press conference in more than four weeks on Monday. It comes on the heels of a report by Public Health Ontario that shows COVID-19 cases, test positivity rates and hospitalizations have gone up since March 21, when the province ended mandatory masking in most indoor spaces.

“The full impact of lifting masking and other measures may not yet be observable, given limited PCR testing eligibility and lagging hospitalization data,” the report says.

It proposes bringing back indoor masking and extending masking mandates in high-risk settings as possible elements of a “layered” strategy to mitigate a surge in cases.

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The report also warns that the number of Ontario children experiencing severe illness from COVID-19 is likely to increase given the increased transmissibility of the BA.2 subvariant of the virus, the removal of public health measures and the limited vaccine eligibility and two-dose coverage in those under the age of 12.

The BA.2 subvariant is now the dominant strain in the latest wave of the pandemic, the document says. The proportion of samples identified as BA.2 rose from 12.3 per cent the week of Feb. 13 to 54 per cent the week of March 13, it says.

Dr. Thomas Piggott, the medical officer of health for Peterborough, Ont., said the province should consider reinstating mask mandates and rethink its plan to lift remaining public health measures later this month.

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“There are many concerns right now, both with the lack of masking in the current context and also the potential for increased removal of measures into the next few weeks, and I hope that there will be reconsideration to all of that given that the sixth wave is way worse than even the worst modelling scenarios from the Ontario science table,” he said in an interview.

“I think now’s the time to reconsider.”


1:50 p.m.

Employees are ‘in the driver’s seat’: How employers are trying to lure people back to the office

As some businesses begin to bring workers back to the office, employees are newly “in the driver’s seat,” and employers are realizing that, in general, they need less real estate and must use what they have differently.

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Read our full story.


12:55 p.m.

Legault dogged by Herron questions on byelection day

Premier François Legault accused opposition parties of smearing two of his ministers to gain points ahead of today’s byelection in the South Shore riding of Marie-Victorin.

“It’s not a coincidence that we’ve seen a smear job over the past week,” Legault told reporters.

He was responding to questions about the Herron CHSLD after revelations last week that two of Legault’s key ministers during the first wave appeared to know about the appalling situation at the long-term care home earlier than they had previously acknowledged.

Forty-seven seniors died at the Herron in the spring of 2020.

Opposition parties have suggested that Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec was itself playing politics ahead of the byelection by strategically leaking word on Friday that ministers Marguerite Blais and Danielle McCann were not running again.

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Blais is the minister responsible for seniors, while McCann, the health minister during the first few months of the pandemic, is currently the minister of higher education.

After the news was leaked to media outlets on Friday, both Blais and McCann acknowledged that they would bow out of politics after their current term.

Speaking to reporters in Montreal today, Legault said it’s “odious” to suggest his government leaked the news.

“I can assure you that it wasn’t someone from my entourage that leaked this information,” he said.

Legault again defended his government’s handling of the crisis at the Herron.

He said Blais and McCann had been assured that the West Island regional health authority was going to handle the deteriorating situation at the Dorval CHSLD.

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McCann and Blais “did everything they possibly could at the beginning of the first wave and I find it sad that (the opposition) is playing petty politics because of the byelection,” Legault added.

“It’s totally unacceptable that we have opposition parties trying to make (political points) because we have a byelection today.”

The premier was speaking outside an elementary school.

Minutes earlier, Legault – whose Bill 21 imposes “state secularism” and “the religious neutrality of the state” – took part in a school activity to mark the Christian holiday of Easter.

Christians are currently observing Holy Week, ahead of Easter Sunday on April 17.

Muslims are currently marking Ramadan. The Jewish holiday Passover begins on Friday.

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The Marie-Victorin riding is a Parti Québécois stronghold.

Watch Legault’s press conference:

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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12:50 p.m.

Fixer says former Alberta justice minister hired him to get reporter’s phone logs after COVID story

A self-described political fixer says a former Alberta justice minister hired him to obtain a reporter’s phone logs.

David Wallace says he was hired by Jonathan Denis to get the phone records of Alanna Smith, a former Calgary Herald reporter who now works for The Canadian Press.

Wallace said Denis told him he wanted to trace sources Smith had drawn on for a story about whether the size of Denis’s wedding reception broke COVID-19 protocols.

Read our full story.


12:30 p.m.

Chart: Current situation vs. one year ago


12:30 p.m.

Charts: Quebec cases, deaths


12:30 p.m.

Charts: Quebec’s vaccination campaign


11:05 a.m.

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Quebec reports six new deaths as hospitalizations approach 1,800

Quebec has recorded 2,234 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, six new deaths were reported, bringing the cumulative total to 14,544.

The number of COVID-positive patients jumped by 85 – the biggest one-day increase in almost three months.

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

  • Montreal Island: 440 cases, zero deaths.
  • Net increase in hospitalizations: 85, for total of 1,793 (184 entered hospital, 99 discharged).
  • Net decrease in intensive care patients: 2, for total of 69 (7 entered ICUs, 9 discharged).
  • 16,082 PCR tests conducted Saturday.
  • 13,444 vaccine doses administered over previous 24 hours.

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10:30 a.m.

Open windows to reduce COVID risks: Health Canada

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10 a.m.

Quebecers 60 and up now eligible for fourth vaccines doses

We have updated our guide to vaccinations to reflect the fact that Quebec has expanded access to fourth vaccine doses (also referred to as second boosters).

Those 70 and older became eligible last week, while people 60 and up can book shots as of today.

Read our guide.


9:45 a.m.

‘Infection doesn’t protect you’: Getting COVID twice is more common as immunity wanes

From The Canadian Press:

Christine Enns said she was shocked when a rapid test showed she had tested positive for COVID-19.

Enns, who received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine and a booster shot, already had the virus in early February and thought reinfection was rare.

“I started feeling sick three to four days ago thinking, ‘This feels like COVID.’ I took five tests and …today it came back positive,” the bakery owner said Friday from her home in Warren, Manitoba, about 45 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

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“It did come as a surprise to me because of all the things I put in place to not get it. Now that I had it twice, I don’t feel quite as invincible.”

Reinfection of COVID-19 was considered unusual, but then the Omicron variant arrived.

“Because Omicron is so different, previous infection doesn’t protect you,” Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said last week.

He said public health data suggests up to 10 per cent of infected Canadians who have recently had BA.2 — a sub-variant of Omicron — previously had BA.1 or a previous infection, like the Delta variant.

This aligns with recent studies done in England that suggest 10 per cent of reported cases are reinfections.

“That shows just because you got Omicron once doesn’t mean you’re bulletproof now,” Shahab said.

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Not all provinces publicly report reinfection rates. However, in Ontario, public health says nearly 12,000 people have gotten COVID-19 twice since November 2020 with the current risk of reinfection deemed “high.”

Quebec’s National Institute of Public Health says the number of presumed reinfections has increased greatly in its province since Omicron arrived.

In a January report, Quebec reported 32 reinfections for every 1,000 primary infections, with nearly 9,000 people suspected of getting reinfected since May 2020.

Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan, said unlike other variants Omicron is much better at working around immunity that’s either induced by vaccines or previous infections.

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“Not only is it able to escape immunity, but it is happening at a time where people’s immunity is waning,” Muhajarine said, adding it has been three to five months since most Canadians have completed their two-dose vaccine series.

“It’s a bit of a double jeopardy there, and that’s why we’re seeing so many more reinfections with Omicron.”

Health officials continue to suggest that people complete their two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series and get boosted with a third dose and, if eligible, a fourth shot.

“Vaccines really work well against severe outcomes” like hospitalization and death, said Shahab.

“Even though you got COVID at some point in the past, you can wait anywhere from two weeks to three months to get a booster.”

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Nationwide, about 47 per cent of eligible people have received a third dose, says the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Despite getting COVID-19 twice, Enns said she will get a second booster if she becomes eligible.

“I feel if I didn’t have the vaccinations, I’d definitely be in the hospital,” said Enns, who is considered at-risk because she has Type 2 diabetes and asthma.

Enns recalled knowing an unvaccinated person who died alone in hospital due to COVID-19, calling the experience “awful.”

“You think, ‘That could be me.’ But I’m not. I’m at home and sick, but I’ll live.”


9:30 a.m.

Opinion: Why didn’t care improve after CIUSSS took over Herron?

Newly obtained documents from the coroner’s inquest raise questions about who was in charge — and what was actually done to help the nursing home’s residents.

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Read Allison Hanes’ latest column.

Paramedics wheel a resident out of CHSLD Herron in Dorval, April 8, 2020.
Paramedics wheel a resident out of CHSLD Herron in Dorval, April 8, 2020. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

9:30 a.m.

Schools trying to contain COVID-19 spread as sixth wave rises in Quebec

To ensure the situation didn’t get out of hand, one high school in Laval sent all students home last Friday and asked parents to test their children for COVID-19 two times over the weekend.

At a private elementary school in Montreal, meanwhile, students were asked this week to once again wear masks at their desks after a handful of cases quickly spread and grew to more than 30.

As the pandemic’s sixth wave continues in Quebec, the virus is once again spreading among students and teachers, forcing schools to adapt in order to contain transmission and avoid prolonged closures or disruptions.

Read our full story, by Jesse Feith.

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9:30 a.m.

Frustration over pandemic restrictions boosts Quebec Conservatives ahead of fall vote

In a province where opposition parties have generally backed the government’s COVID-19 restrictions, Quebec Conservative Leader Eric Duhaime has built support through his opposition to lockdown measures.

His party, which received less than two per cent of the vote in Quebec’s 2018 provincial election when it was led by Adrien Pouliot, is now regularly polling in second or third place.

Read our full story.


9:30 a.m.

‘A huge rift’ – COVID response strains relationships in northern Alberta

The mayor of High Level, a town in Alberta’s far northwest corner, says she has not spoken to the county government for several weeks.

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“We’re not at each other’s throats, but it’s a very estranged relationship,” says Crystal McAteer. “There is a fracture between us. We already had problems, but it’s come to the forefront in the last two years.”

Public health measures to try to curb the spread of COVID-19 have sown a stark divide in Mackenzie County, the least vaccinated region in Alberta.

Read our full story.


9:30 a.m.

Queen Elizabeth II says COVID left ‘one very tired and exhausted’

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II said COVID-19 had left “one very tired and exhausted” as she talked to health workers and a former patient about her own experience of “this horrible pandemic.”

Read our full story.

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9:30 a.m.

WHO says it is analyzing two new Omicron COVID sub-variants

The World Health Organization said on Monday it is tracking a few dozen cases of two new sub-variants of the highly transmissible Omicron strain of the coronavirus to assess whether they are more infectious or dangerous.

Read our full story.


9:30 a.m.

Shanghai eases lockdown in some areas despite record COVID infections

China’s financial centre of Shanghai started easing its lockdown in some areas on Monday despite reporting a record of more than 25,000 new COVID-19 infections, as authorities sought to get the city moving again after more than two weeks.

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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