US expert says Canada misses opportunity to fight P.1 COVID-19 variant

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A leading U.S. health expert, who was among the first to sound the alarm on the COVID-19 pandemic last year, is now worried about the spread of the P.1 variant in Canada, warning that the country is acting too slowly.

Eric Feigl-Ding, epidemiologist and deputy senior researcher at the Federation of American Scientists, warned in January 2020 – two months before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic – that the novel coronavirus could become a “health crisis thermonuclear public ”.

“It’s not good,” he said. “We’ve known for some time how bad this variant is. But there has been a reluctance to follow the science on this. “

Over the past two weeks, he has focused on Canadian provinces experiencing outbreaks of P.1, a variant of the virus first identified in Brazil that is now spreading rapidly in British Columbia and is taking root in Alberta. and in Ontario.

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New unpaired Brazilian research led by the Observatório COVID-19 BR suggests that the P.1 variant is up to 2.5 times more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain. Another study in Manaus, the Amazon city hard hit by the variant, suggests that out of 100 COVID-19 survivors, 25 to 60 could be re-infected if exposed to P.1.

The number of variant P.1 cases reported in British Columbia alone has skyrocketed in recent weeks, reaching 737 on Monday, nearly double the number reported before the start of the Easter long weekend.

Monday saw British Columbia reach a new all-time high for intensive care patients affected by COVID-19, with 96 people currently receiving intensive care.

This record was predicted at the end of March by Sally Otto, a mathematical biologist at the University of British Columbia who has done COVID-19 modeling. She said the surge in intensive care would likely be fueled by several variants, including P.1.

Feigl-Ding was also sounding the alarm bells for the situation in British Columbia around the same time. On March 26, he reported on CNN that the province is seeing more cases of the P.1 variant every day – between 20 and 30 – than the whole of the United States combined.

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Feigl-Ding also cites a March 24 BC Center for Disease Control report that identified 84 cases of P.1 that were unrelated to returning travelers, strongly suggesting community spread.

“I can’t believe (BC public health officials) didn’t act then” and impose tougher restrictions, he told Global News. “And now we have all this mess.”

Crisis in Brazil

The situation in British Columbia remains pale compared to the crisis that Variant P.1 unleashed in Brazil.

The country is currently experiencing the worst wave of the pandemic to date, reporting on average more than 3,000 deaths per day.

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The World Health Organization said Thursday that Brazilian hospitals were in critical condition, with many intensive care units over 90% full. National media and public health institutions described the situation as a “collapse” of the health system.

Still, Feigl-Ding says the fate of Brazil – whose masks and lockdowns President Jair Bolsonaro refuses to support – can be avoided in Canada by expanding contact tracing and tightening restrictions.

“Beyond the ban on eating indoors, there must be masking in schools,” Feigl-Ding said. “None of these ‘middle or senior schools, only fourth grade or higher.’ No, at all levels. Everyone up to the age of five, I think, is really, really essential.

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The US Centers for Disease Control went even further, saying anyone over two years old should wear a mask.

British Columbia provincial health worker Dr Bonnie Henry banned indoor dining in restaurants and bars on March 29.

On the same day, it also expanded mask requirements in schools to cover students in grades 4 and up, as well as all school staff. Previously, masks were only recommended for elementary school students while they were mandatory for middle and high school children, and only when students were away from their desks.

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Henry said other actions regarding the schools will not be reviewed until April 19, which Feigl-Ding said is a “scratching” mistake.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘follow the science’,” he said. “You have to keep up with the evolution and updating of science. As a leader in public health, this is part of your job. “

Feigl-Ding’s advice also extends to officials in other provinces such as Ontario, where more than 100 P.1 cases have been confirmed, and Alberta, which has had 15 to date.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Monday that the outbreak in that province, which she described as “significant” over the weekend, appears to be linked to a large employer with several sites in Western Canada. She said it would have started with a traveler returning to Alberta from out of province.

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Growing number of young Canadians hospitalized with variants

Growing number of young Canadians hospitalized with variants

As Ontario tightened restrictions over the weekend, leaders in Alberta and other provinces have expressed opposition to further lockdowns or a rollback on their reopenings.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said last week that “the way to overcome this (pandemic) is through vaccines. The solution is not to increase public health measures. “

But Feigl-Ding says a mixture of the two is needed until herd immunity is achieved. And because P.1 is more transmissible and deadly than the original strain of virus, it will require a higher percentage of the population to be vaccinated.

“And Canada is not even close to that point yet,” he said. “Even if you do it, it will only slow down the ongoing virus outbreak. That won’t stop him in his tracks.

“There’s no easy way to say this, but we have to be vigilant until the vaccinations have reached a high threshold, and only then can we lightly release the gas. You have to do this at a slow, low level, not in the middle of a forest fire. “

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– with files from Rachael D’Amore and Reuters from Global

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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