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COVID live updates: Rise in hospitalizations continues as Quebec reports 20 new deaths


U.S. regulators greenlight fourth dose for people who are 50 and older.

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Updated throughout the day on Tuesday, March 29. Questions/comments: ariga@postmedia.com

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Top updates

  • Videos: Highlights of Dubé health reform announcement
  • Health professionals temper their praise for Quebec reform with advice
  • Opinion: Employers can enforce masking policies even after provincial mandates are gone
  • Why are Shanghai’s COVID infections nearly all asymptomatic?
  • U.S. regulators greenlight fourth dose for people who are 50 and older
  • Rise in hospitalizations continues as Quebec reports 20 new deaths
  • Health reform plan is ‘bold and complete,’ Legault says
  • Quebec lays out plan to reform health care
  • Province prioritizes access to family doctors in health-care reform plan
  • Dubé vows to improve Quebec health system battered by pandemic
  • Quebec starts offering 4th doses to CHSLD residents and people 80+
  • Province has entered a sixth wave, experts say
  • Quebec’s proposed health system reforms are oft-promised, rarely delivered
  • Shift toward teleworking is irreversible, Quebec banker says
  • U.K. police find prime minister’s office parties broke COVID rules
  • Omicron ‘stealth’ COVID variant BA.2 now dominant globally
  • Randy Hillier released with many conditions after being charged for convoy protest activities
  • In China’s Wall Street, bankers and traders sleep in offices to beat Shanghai COVID lockdown
  • Quebec COVID guide: Vaccinations, testing
  • Sign up for our free nightly coronavirus newsletter

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1:15 p.m.

Videos: Highlights of Dubé health reform announcement

Would the CAQ have introduced this health-care reform without the pandemic? 

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Dubé insists his reforms to Quebec’s health system are realistic

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How will Dubé’s reforms take the pressure off Quebec’s health system?

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Quebec is serious about ending mandatory overtime for nurses, Dubé says 

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What’s the timeline for clearing the waiting list for family doctors in Quebec? 

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With many family doctors booked up, how will Dubé ensure access to care? 

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What will Quebec’s emergency room command centres accomplish? 

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1 p.m.

Health professionals temper their praise for Quebec reform with advice

Immediate reaction from Quebec’s health-care establishment to the unveiling on Tuesday of provincial Health Minister Christian Dubé’s blueprint to rebuild the province’s heath-care network was generally positive.

However, many professional associations tempered their praise with advice on how to make this latest attempt at health-care reform a success.

Read our full story.


12:10 p.m.

Opinion: Employers can enforce masking policies even after provincial mandates are gone

After much anticipation, the Ontario government ended its mask mandate on March 21. For many, this caused them to breathe a sigh of relief, both literally and figuratively.

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But make no mistake, that does not mean that masks are a thing of the past. We have had it drilled into us for the past two years that masks are necessary to protect our health. They have become a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives. Many don’t leave their homes without one. Some have even invested in extensive mask wardrobes.

Read the full column, by labour lawyer Howard Levitt.


12:10 p.m.

Why are Shanghai’s COVID infections nearly all asymptomatic?

Epidemiologists examining the biggest Chinese outbreak of COVID-19 in two years are trying to ascertain why the proportion of asymptomatic cases is so high, and what it could mean for China’s future containment strategy.

Read our full story.


11:45 a.m.

Chart: Current situation vs. one year ago

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11:45 a.m.

Charts: Quebec cases, deaths


11:45 a.m.

Charts: Quebec’s vaccination campaign


11:25 a.m.

U.S. regulators greenlight fourth dose for people who are 50 and older

From the Reuters news agency:

U.S. regulators today authorized a second booster dose of the two most commonly used COVID-19 vaccines for people age 50 and older, given data showing waning immunity and the risks posed by Omicron variants of the virus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the new boosters – a fourth round of shots for most vaccine recipients – of the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc vaccines are to be administered at least four months after the previous dose. They are intended to offer more protection against severe disease and hospitalization.

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The FDA also authorized the second booster dose of the vaccines for younger people with compromised immune systems – those aged 12 and older for the Pfizer/BioNTech shot and 18 and older for Moderna’s.

The authorization comes as some scientists have raised concerns about the highly contagious BA.2 Omicron subvariant, which has driven new spikes in COVID-19 cases in other countries.

COVID-19 cases in the United States have dropped sharply since a record surge in January, but have seen a small uptick over the past week, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“While this EUA (emergency use authorization) will help address a current need for some, we’re working diligently to develop an updated vaccine that not only protects against current COVID-19 strains but also provides more durable responses,” Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said in a statement.

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Pfizer and BioNTech originally asked for the next booster doses to be authorized for people 65 and older in a submission citing data collected in Israel, where a second booster is already authorized for many people over age 18. The companies and the FDA did not explain why the age range had been expanded.

Scientists and officials have debated whether young, healthy people will need a fourth shot. A study of Israeli healthcare workers suggested that the fourth dose added little additional protection in the age group.

Biden administration officials have said that the U.S. government currently has enough doses of the vaccines to meet the demand for another round of booster shots in older Americans, even as funding for the U.S. pandemic response has all but run out.

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They say that unless Congress approves more spending, the government will not be likely to be able to pay for future inoculations if they are needed, particularly if the vaccines need to be redesigned to target new variants.


11:05 a.m.

Rise in hospitalizations continues as Quebec reports 20 new deaths

Quebec has recorded 2,171 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, 20 new deaths were reported, bringing the cumulative total to 14,345.

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

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  • Montreal Island: 365 cases, 2 deaths.
  • Net increase in hospitalizations: 38, for total of 1,153 (135 entered hospital, 97 discharged).
  • Net increase in intensive care patients: 10, for total of 63 (14 entered ICUs, 4 discharged).
  • 13,139 PCR tests conducted Sunday.
  • 4,287 vaccine doses administered over previous 24 hours.

10:35 a.m.

Quebec’s latest health reform plan is ‘bold and complete,’ Legault says

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10:30 a.m.

Quebec lays out plan to reform health care

The Quebec government today unveiled a plan to reform the health network.

You can find details on this government webpage. The information only seems to be available in French.

Here’s the main document:


10:30 a.m.

Quebec prioritizes access to family doctors in health-care reform plan


10:20 a.m.

Dubé vows to improve Quebec health system battered by pandemic

Health Minister Christian Dubé has unveiled what he described as a sweeping reform of the health system.

Before detailing his long-awaited plan to improve health care, he noted that the past two years of the pandemic have been difficult for the network.

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The system has struggled to keep up with wave after wave of COVID-positive patients, with thousands of people dying due to the virus. The crisis also focused a spotlight on a longstanding shortage of nurses, orderlies and other health workers.

However, Dubé said, “our (health) system proved over the past two years that we’re able to pull off small miracles.”

“Despite the pandemic, we had success. We know that we’re capable, that we can do things.”

Dubé said one of his key objectives is to ensure all Quebecers have “the best patient experience and that they are proud of their health system.”

Another is that the provincial health network “become the employer of choice for the 300,000 people who work in it and also for those who want to come work for it.”

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As René Bruemmer reports, under the plan, the government wants to offer access to a family doctor or other health professional to receive front-line care and to improve working conditions for health workers.

In an 80-page document titled “Human and efficient,” the Coalition Avenir Québec government chronicles the system’s ailments, including a lack of personnel (roughly 50,000 people were missing from the health system in January 2022), an aging population, lack of access to rapid care and rising costs.

In a Facebook post last night, Premier François Legault said he planned to attend today’s press conference.

“But COVID decided otherwise,” he said. “I assure you, I feel well, but I have to remain in isolation.”

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Legault tested positive for COVID on Thursday and has been in self-isolation at home in Montreal.

Watch the press conference:

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9 a.m.

Quebec starts offering 4th doses to CHSLD residents and people 80+

Quebec has expanded access to fourth doses (also referred to as second boosters) to certain segments of the population.

Those eligible as of today include residents of long-term care homes (CHSLDs) and private seniors’ residences, as well as Quebecers who are 80 and older.

Residents in congregate living settings will be visited by mobile vaccinators.

Others can book via the Clic Santé website.

Clic Santé indicates that fourth doses were already available for people who:

  • Are at least 12 years old and are immunocompromised or on dialysis.
  • Received two doses of AstraZeneca or Covishield vaccine and one dose of an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer).

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8:30 a.m.

Quebec has entered a sixth wave, experts say

Quebec has already entered a sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic driven by the BA.2 subvariant, two experts said Monday, although it’s unclear how severe it will be and whether the rest of the country will follow.

Read our full story.


8:30 a.m.

Quebec’s proposed health system reforms are oft-promised, rarely delivered

Observers could be forgiven a certain level of cynicism.

Many of the reforms to be announced today promising to heal Quebec’s ailing health-care system — including quicker access to front-line health workers, improved working conditions for nurses and reduced wait times in ERs — have been pledged multiple times over the last few decades.

Read our full story, by René Bruemmer.

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8:30 a.m.

Shift toward teleworking is irreversible, Quebec banker says

Working from home is here to stay, according to the head of North America’s biggest financial services co-operative.

“We will never go back. We will never again have 50,000 employees who physically work in the office at the same time, whether it’s in our branches, in Toronto, in Vancouver, in Lévis or in Montreal,” Mouvement Desjardins chief executive Guy Cormier said in a recent interview.

Teleworking “changes everything with regards to employee management, talent attraction and the experience people live. I’m profoundly convinced that the world of work will come out of the pandemic forever changed.”

Read our full story, by Frédéric Tomesco.

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8:20 a.m.

U.K. police find prime minister’s office parties broke COVID rules

From the Bloomberg news agency:

U.K. police said they will recommend 20 fines for staff and officials close to Boris Johnson over parties during the pandemic, which broke rules imposed by the government to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The individuals — who London’s Metropolitan Police did not identify — will be the first to be handed so-called fixed penalty notices over the events, which took place in the heart of the British government while the rest of England was restricted from socializing in groups due to Covid-19.

The prime minister himself did not receive a fine, his spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters on Tuesday. The prime minister has repeatedly said he was assured no rules were broken and that a gathering he acknowledged attending was a work event. The police said the investigation into a dozen gatherings — including one in Johnson’s apartment — is still running.

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“He has set out at all times his understanding of events,” Blain said when asked if Johnson would revise his account in the House of Commons. The premier will give a statement when the police has finished its inquiry, he said.

The fallout from the scandal — dubbed “partygate” by the British media — brought Johnson to the brink during the first weeks of the year, as it compounded a series of other gaffes and missteps that led some members of his ruling Conservative Party to call for his resignation.

Tuesday’s police finding that laws were broken in Downing Street will heighten the risk for Johnson at a critical time, as he seeks to ramp up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine.

His Tories also face local elections in May, which the party will be hoping can provide momentum into the next national poll due in 2024.

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How Conservative MPs respond is likely to depend on whether Johnson himself receives a fine in the coming weeks, and whether they decide voters have moved on from the scandal due to the focus on Ukraine and a burgeoning cost-of-living crisis.

Johnson will host a team-bonding dinner for Tory MPs on Tuesday as he seeks to rebuild the relationship with his party. It comes after a planned “away day” at a countryside retreat was postponed in January due to the pandemic.

The Met statement makes clear that officers are still looking into events in Downing Street, and that further fines could still be issued.

The force also said it would not publish names or the number of fines it refers from each event. Under the U.K. system, the police refer rule breaches to the ACRO Criminal Records Office to issue the fixed penalty notices.

“We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments,” the Met said in the statement.


8:20 a.m.

Omicron ‘stealth’ COVID variant BA.2 now dominant globally

A sub-variant of the highly transmissible Omicron version of coronavirus known as BA.2 is now dominant worldwide, prompting surges in many countries in Europe and Asia and raising concern over the potential for a new wave in the United States.

Read our full story.


8:20 a.m.

Randy Hillier released with many conditions after being charged for convoy protest activities

Eastern Ontario MPP Randy Hillier was released from court with a long list of conditions after turning himself into Ottawa police Monday morning to face nine criminal charges related to the weeks-long “Freedom Convoy” occupation of downtown streets.

One of those charges alleges Hillier, 64, encouraged his numerous social media followers to flood police non-emergency lines during the peak of the demonstration, when Ottawa police were pleading with the public to keep those phone lines open.

Read our full story.


8:20 a.m.

In China’s Wall Street, bankers and traders sleep in offices to beat Shanghai COVID lockdown

More than 20,000 bankers, traders and other workers are bedding down in office towers in Shanghai’s Lujiazui district as they bid to keep China’s giant financial hub ticking over through a COVID-19 lockdown, according to local administration officials.

Read our full story.


8:15 a.m.

Quebec COVID guide: Vaccinations, testing, restrictions

Vaccinations

Testing


8:15 a.m.

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ariga@postmedia.com

Read my previous live blogs here.


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