British Columbia launched new strategies targeting workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 and screening for its variants on Thursday as some called for more aggressive action.
The change in approach came as the province set a record for daily COVID-19 cases at 1,293 and reported two new deaths as part of a surging third wave of infections. According to officials, of the active cases in B.C., 336 are in hospital with 101 people in intensive care.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said transmission chains and outbreaks are being seen in workplaces across the province, but particularly in the Lower Mainland. A new public health order will expedite temporary closures when three or more employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and transmission has been confirmed at the workplace, she said.
It empowers WorkSafeBC to issue the closure order for 10 days or longer and work with businesses to review and enhance their COVID-19 safety plans. In larger workplaces like construction sites, the closure may only affect one area or team.
Public health will assess whether essential workplaces like fire halls, grocery stores and pharmacies should remain open, but they will be supported in other ways, she told a news conference.
The strategy aims to avoid sector-wide closures, which Henry said are “really a blunt tool” for combating infections.
“In these ways we can keep people working safely and augment the measures already in place,” she said.
The province is also shifting its screening strategy for variants of concern, although the methods for preventing transmission, such as handwashing and physical distancing, remain the same, Henry said. Given the high prevalence of the variants, infections will no longer routinely undergo full genome sequencing for confirmation.
“We assume that anybody who is positive for COVID-19 needs to be treated as if they have one of these highly transmissible viruses,” Henry said.
Concern over the P1 variant continues to rise in B.C. It was first identified in Brazil and the situation there is grim. Our <a href=”https://twitter.com/anitabathe?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@anitabathe</a> spoke with Dr. Rosana Richtmann, an infectious disease expert based in São Paulo, about how the variant is impacting their health-care system. <a href=”https://t.co/8ZZQligSAp”>pic.twitter.com/8ZZQligSAp</a>
Whole genome sequencing will focus instead on new transmission chains or clusters to help improve outbreak management, including monitoring for reinfections, vaccine failures and so-called escape variants that don’t respond to immunization, she said.
“We need now to shift our strategy so that we can use whole genome sequencing capacity that we have in British Columbia to do more systematic testing and sampling of all of the strains to make sure we’re not missing another important one that may be arising,” Henry said.
Some pushed the province on Thursday to toughen the measures it is taking to fight COVID-19. The Green Party called for a three-week shutdown that would include enforcing non-essential travel measures, moving school online for most students and providing immediate government support to temporarily close non-essential businesses.
-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:25 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 10:10 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 1,040,256 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 65,998 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,229
Ontario on Friday reported 4,227 new cases of COVID-19 and 18 additional deaths. Health officials put the number of hospitalizations at 1,492, with 552 people in ICU due to COVID-related illness.
Meanwhile, hospitals across most of hard-hit Ontario have been instructed to postpone non-essential surgeries as of Monday. A memo from Ontario Health CEO Matthew Anderson obtained by CBC News says, “Given increasing case counts and widespread community transmission across many parts of the province, we are facing mounting and extreme pressure on our critical care capacity.”
In Atlantic Canada, health officials reported a total of 14 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including:
WATCH | Canadian scientists research what causes wide range of COVID-19 symptoms:
In Quebec, people living in Montreal and Laval will soon see the nightly curfew kick in even earlier, moving from 9:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The announcement came as Premier François Legault said that recently announced measures in several communities — including Quebec City,and Gatineau — would be extended until April 19.
Health officials in Quebec on Thursday announced 1,609 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations, as reported by the province, stood at 566, with 132 people listed as being in intensive care.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 139 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and three additional deaths. In neighbouring Saskatchewan, health officials reported 205 new cases and two additional deaths.
In Alberta, the province’s top public health doctor, Deena Hinshaw, said the three more contagious variants of COVID-19 in the province have become the dominant strains. Hinshaw said those who test positive can assume they are infected with the one first reported in the United Kingdom.
The province reported 1,429 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and three additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 340, with 83 people reported to be in ICU.
Across the North, there were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Nunavut and Yukon on Thursday. In the Northwest Territories, health officials said Thursday that two recently reported coronavirus cases had been confirmed to be variant cases.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 10:10 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 134 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll had increased to more than 2.9 million.
In the Americas, Washington is surging federal resources to support vaccinations, testing and therapeutics — but not vaccines — to Michigan in an effort to control the state’s worst-in-the-nation COVID-19 transmission rate, the White House said Friday.
President Joe Biden outlined the moves late Thursday in a call with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, according to senior administration officials.
It will not include a “surge” of vaccine doses, a move Whitmer has advocated. Instead, Biden outlined how the federal government was planning to help Michigan better administer the doses already allocated to the state, as well as surge testing capacity and drugs for virus treatment.
During a press conference on Friday, Whitmer confirmed that she had asked Biden on the call to send more vaccine doses to Michigan, particularly the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.
“I made the case for a surge strategy,” she said. “At this point, that’s not being deployed, but I am not giving up.”
Doses are currently allocated to states proportionally by population, but Whitmer has called for extra doses to be shifted to states like hers experiencing a sharp rise in cases.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia has finalized a deal to buy an extra 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine as it rapidly pivots away from its earlier plan to rely mainly on the AstraZeneca vaccine. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the deal Friday after saying Australia would stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 50.
Hong Kong said on Friday it will delay shipments of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine this year.
Japan aims to place Tokyo under a new, month-long “quasi-emergency” state to combat surging COVID-19 case numbers, a minister said on Friday, less than a month after the capital and host of the Summer Olympics lifted a broader state of emergency.
In Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman said Germany will draw up legislation to ensure that restrictions are imposed uniformly in regions with high coronavirus infection rates.
In highly decentralized Germany, the 16 state governments have far-reaching powers to impose and lift restrictions. Merkel complained recently about what she saw as some states’ backsliding on previously agreed-to restrictions in places where infections are rising. Germany, like many other European countries, has seen a resurgence of confirmed cases as a more contagious variant first detected in Britain has taken hold.
In the Middle East, Iranian officials said the daily death toll from COVID-19 rose by 155, putting the country’s total at 64,039 as of Friday. On Saturday, Iran will start to impose 10 days of restrictions in 257 cities. The closures include all parks, restaurants, beauty salons, malls and bookstores.
In Africa, Libya has received more than 57,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from the COVAX initiative. The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said the doses that arrived late Thursday have been earmarked for health workers, people older than 75 and people with chronic disease.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10:55 a.m. ET