The latest on the coronavirus pandemic for Sept. 7

Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for September 27th.

While some Canadian students return to classes later in the week, most began their 2021-22 academic year on Tuesday. That included students at St. Patrick's High School in Ottawa, who, per provincial COVID-19 requirements, wore masks as they entered the building. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

New rules kick in for fully vaccinated foreign arrivals in Canada

New rules allowing fully vaccinated travellers from across the globe to skip Canada's 14-day quarantine requirement went into effect beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday.

As a result, the operator of Canada's largest airport had warned that international travellers arriving at Toronto's Pearson airport should prepare for the arrivals process to take one to three hours or longer because of new COVID-19 screening measures. The process involves clearing Canada Border Services Agency and Public Health Agency of Canada screening, collecting bags and possible COVID-19 testing if a traveller is required to be tested.

While the rule change is significant given that most travel has been severely curtailed since the beginning of the pandemic, there are a number of caveats.

International travellers are considered fully vaccinated only if they've received a combination of doses approved by Health Canada: from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, or the single-shot Johnson and Johnson product. As well, because of a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in both countries, Canada has suspended all direct passenger flights from India until Sept. 21 and from Morocco until Sept. 29, although travellers can still arrive indirectly.

While the new rules come amid concerns about Canadian case rates in the fall as summer vacationing ends and kids return to school, the Canadian Border Services Agency said the COVID-19 test positivity rate was manageable last month when a similar rule relaxation went into effect for visiting Americans.

The CBSA says the COVID-19 test positivity rate for travellers last month was low. Between Aug. 9 and Aug. 26, 0.19 per cent of fully vaccinated travellers tested positive after being randomly selected to take a COVID-19 test.

"Vaccinated travellers … represent a much, much lesser risk of carrying and importing cases of COVID into the country [than unvaccinated travellers], and the data demonstrates that," said Denis Vinette, vice-president of the CBSA's COVID-19 border task force.

Tourism industry associations and hotel and attraction operators across Canada would undoubtedly welcome new guests and visitors, but they have lowered their expectations of how many people will travel to typical destinations.

Alberta-based tourism official David McKenna, who chairs the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, said the reopening of the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travellers on Aug. 9 didn't result in a flood of bookings and visitors in his province.

"We usually get quite a bit of vehicle traffic coming up from Washington or Oregon, even California, and we just didn't really see that," he told CBC News.

Many parents with school-aged children are now limited in their ability to travel for leisure, and McKenna said a typical overseas traveller arriving in September or October would have booked their vacation in January.

"We're not really expecting a whole lot [right now], but just the fact of getting the borders back open and people knowing that they can have some confidence in booking for next year, maybe even for ski bookings over the holidays in February or March," he said.

The managing director of an inn in Tofino, B.C., is also among those with an eye toward 2022.

Ever since Canada announced the loosening of restrictions, Charles McDiarmid of the Wickaninnish Inn told CBC News the uptick in inquiries and bookings, predominantly from the U.K., Germany and France, has been about next summer.

From

IN BRIEF

Alberta's vaccine lottery had little effect on boosting vaccination rates, doctors there say

Some Alberta doctors say vaccine incentives like the province's "Open for Summer" lottery and $100 gift cards announced last week will have a minimal effect on uptake.

An analysis of Alberta Health daily vaccine data shows that after the $3-million vaccine lottery was announced on June 12, and travel prizes a few days later, there was an increase in first-dose rates. But by mid-July, when outdoor prizes were added to the lottery, first-dose vaccination numbers had largely plateaued.

"When we think about incentivizing vaccine uptake, we would expect that it would really be the first dose that should jump up if people were going to be incentivized by a lottery," said Smith. "There really was not any kind of indication that the lottery made a huge difference."

Several U.S. states and a few provinces announced lottery-type schemes this year, eliciting a range of behaviours in response. At one extreme, The Oregonian reported in early June that the seven-day vaccination average of adults receiving their first shots had actually decreased from about 9,000 the day before Oregon's governor announced a lottery to 6,700 nearly two weeks later.

Ohio was one of the earliest to announce a lottery, resulting in a number of studies that indicate the impact of its Vax-a-Million program at best led to a minor improvement in uptake levels. But uptake isn't the only consideration — one study estimated the Ohio initiative cost nearly $6 million US but may have saved the state's health-care operators around $66 million in treating the sick than had there been no incentives.

According to CBC tracking, Alberta trails all other Canadian jurisdictions on a per capita basis in terms of vaccine uptake.

Alberta's government has been resistant to the idea of a vaccine passport system. Both British Columbia and France saw notable increases in vaccination after announcing their passport scheme plans.

"We have to look at stronger measures to promote vaccinations," said Dr. Shahzeer Karmali, a general surgeon at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton who has a master's degree in public health practice. "Other provinces, other countries have definitively introduced a vaccine passport or an idea that if you're unvaccinated, then there's limited access to society, because this is where we're at."

Read the full story

World roundup: Britain marks vaccination milesone but plans to raise taxes to pay for pandemic costs

In Britain, both the Department for Education and the prime minister's spokesperson denied a newspaper report that the government there was making plans for an October lockdown, as cases remain persistently high, with nearly 38,000 reported on Tuesday. The government said it plans for a number of scenarios, but a lockdown would be a "last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure" on the health-care system.

Boris Johnson's government on Tuesday hailed the fact that 80 per cent of Britons over the age of 16 — the minimum age of eligibility for the general population — have been fully vaccinated. Johnson also laid out plans to raise taxes on workers, employers and some investors, part of an attempt to fix a health and social care funding crisis after the government spent hundreds of billions to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several U.S. states continue to grapple with concerning hospital capacity issues, including Alabama and Indiana. In Idaho, health leaders have activated "crisis standards of care" for the state's northern hospitals because there are more COVID-19 patients than the institutions can handle.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare cited "a severe shortage of staffing and available beds in the northern area of the state caused by a massive increase in patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization." Some patients may for a time be placed in hospital classrooms or conference rooms rather than traditional hospital rooms, the agency warned.

More than 500 people were hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 on Sept. 1 — the most recent data available on the Department of Health and Welfare's website — and more than one-third of them were in intensive care unit beds.

In Indonesia, the daily coronavirus positivity rate dropped below the World Health Organization's (WHO) benchmark standard of five per cent this week for the first time, an indicator the country's devastating second wave could be easing.

The positivity rate, or the proportion of people tested who are positive, peaked at 33.4 per cent in July when Indonesia became Asia's coronavirus epicentre, driven by the highly contagious delta variant.

On Monday, that rate fell to 4.57 per cent, the lowest since March 2020, early in the pandemic. A rate above five per cent indicates the coronavirus is out of control, the WHO says.

President Joko Widodo urged Indonesians not to be complacent.

"People need to realize that COVID is always lurking," he said. "When our guards are down, [cases] can increase again."

For more pandemic stories from around the globe, follow here.

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With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press

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