Nov. 30 COVID-19 update: 19 new cases, Ontario reaches 10,000 deaths, Omicron arrived earlier than first suspected

Special to WC Online

OTTAWA – Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is reporting a number of local COVID-19 outbreaks have cleared and hospitalizations due to the virus remain low.

As of today, (Nov. 30), there are six outbreaks at healthcare institutions. Two have been cleared at the Ottawa Hospital. A community outbreak, linked to recreation, has also been cleared by OPH, however, one linked to manufacturing is ongoing. The health unit is also monitoring outbreaks at 16 local schools and four at childcare centres. 

There are 10 residents in hospital with COVID-19, one of whom is in an intensive care unit. 

OPH is confirming 19 new cases of COVID-19 today. There have been 284 new cases in Ottawa over the last seven days and 291 Delta variant cases in the last 30 days.

No new COVID-19 deaths in the city leaves the pandemic death toll at 618.

OPH is tracking 321 active cases of COVID-19 in the community.

According to Ottawa’s vaccination dashboard, 91 per cent of residents over the age of 12 have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and 88 per cent have now had both necessary to be considered immunized.

The health unit says 85 per cent of residents over the age of five have had one shot against COVID-19 and 81 per cent have had two.

The rate of infection among Ottawa’s unvaccinated vaccine-eligible population is four times higher than it is for the fully vaccinated population. The local rate of infection per 100,000 residents for those vaccinated against the virus is at 13.5, whereas the rate for those unvaccinated (or vaccinated with one dose under 14 days) is 49.3. The rate per 100,000 residents for those who are waiting for their second shot is 31.9.

Residents being tested for COVID-19 are seeing positive results 1.8 per cent of the time.

Ontario reported 687 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday as the province reached a grim milestone with 10,000 virus-related deaths. There have been 126 reported deaths in Ontario since November 1 and 128 cumulative coronavirus-related deaths in October. The growth trajectory of the seven-day average continues, with the province now at 794 as of Tuesday. It was as low as 532 on Nov. 11 and 362 at the start of the month.

There have been 31,988 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa (30,049 resolved) since March of 2020.

Ontario reaches 10,000 lost to COVID mark

ONTARIO – COVID-19 has claimed the lives of Ontarians from all age groups and walks of life, but it has hit older residents especially hard, with about 5,900 people aged 80 and over dying due to the coronavirus, according to Public Health Ontario data.

The median age of deaths has decreased through each subsequent wave of the pandemic, provincial data shows. From the first wave to the fourth, it dropped from 85 years old to 74.

Long-term care residents have been disproportionately affected, with more than 40 per cent of all deaths in the province occurring in that population.

A report on the latest pandemic projections from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table also notes that people with lower incomes, essential workers and visible minorities have experienced the highest risk of COVID-19-related mortality.

Karen Born, the assistant scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said in the third wave, there was more infection among essential workers, the people who weren’t able to stay home.

“The essential worker population is a population that is more likely to be from racialized populations and low-income populations as well,” Born added.

Ever since the rollout of vaccines, there’s been a decrease in the number of deaths overall, Born noted. However, those who have not been fully vaccinated are still seeing high rates of infection, hospitalization and death, she said.

At the Altamont long-term care home, the memory of Mandegarian lives on. Williams said a room has been dedicated to her memory and Mandegarian is often thought of by those who knew her. 

“Sometimes you’re walking down the hall and you reach a certain area or you go into the staff room – it’s almost like you hear her voice laughing or giving you a joke,” she said. “We think about her a lot.” 

Omicron here earlier than initially thought

CANADA – New findings about the coronavirus’s omicron variant made it clear today (Nov. 30) the emerging threat slipped into countries before their defences were up, as two distant nations announced their first cases and a third reported its presence before South African officials sounded the alarm.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. The World Health Organization said South Africa first reported the variant to the U.N. health agency on Nov. 24. Japan and France reported their first cases of the new variant that has forced the world once again to pinball between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including how contagious it might be, but a WHO official said Tuesday that there could soon be a steep rise in infections in parts of southern Africa.

It is unclear where or when the variant first emerged, and the Dutch announcement further muddies the timeline. Previously, the Netherlands had said it found the variant among passengers who came from South Africa on Friday — but the new cases predate that.

That hasn’t stopped wary nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa. Those moves have been criticized by South Africa and the WHO has urged against them, noting their limited effect.

The latest news though made it increasingly clear that travel bans would struggle to stop the spread of the variant. The Netherlands, Belgium and France have now all reported cases in people who were in their countries before the European Union imposed flight restrictions.

Japan announced it would ban all foreign visitors beginning today — but that turned out to be too late. It confirmed its first case that day, a Namibian diplomat who recently arrived from his country.

German authorities, meanwhile, said they had an omicron infection in a man who had neither been abroad nor had contact with anyone who was.

The WHO warned Monday that the global risk from omicron is “very high.” and that early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.

The growing number of cases attributed to omicron in Botswana and South Africa suggests that this may be the first sign of a “a steep rise,” Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, regional virologist for the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“There is a possibility that really we’re going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds,” Gumede-Moeletsi said.

After a period of low transmission in South Africa, new cases began to rapidly increase in the middle of November. Currently the country is confirming nearly 3,000 new infections per day.

The concentration of omicron cases among university students in the capital of Pretoria is a particular cause for concern because that group is very sociable — and will soon be heading for their homes at the end of the year and mixing with friends and family.

Doctors in South Africa are reporting patients are suffering mostly mild symptoms so far, but many of them are young adults who generally do not get as sick from COVID-19 as older patients.

Still, many officials tried to calm fears, insisting vaccines remain the best defense and that the world must redouble its efforts to get the shots to every part of the globe.

European Medicines Agency chief, Emer Cooke, insisted that the 27-nation EU was well prepared for the variant. While it is not known how effective current vaccines are against omicron, Cooke said the shots could be adapted within three or four months if need be.

The latest variant makes vaccination efforts even more important, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, noting as many have before that “as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating.”

In the face of the new variant, some introduced new measures aimed at mitigating the spread.

England made face coverings mandatory again on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers. And one month ahead of Christmas, the head of the U.K.’s Health Security Agency, Jenny Harries, urged people not to socialize if they don’t need to.

And after COVID-19 already led to a one-year postponement of the Summer Games, Olympic organizers were beginning to worry about the February Winter Games in Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said omicron would “certainly bring some challenges in terms of prevention and control.”

World markets continued to seesaw on every piece of medical news, either worrisome or reassuring.

Global shares mostly slipped Tuesday as investors cautiously weighed how much damage omicron may unleash on the global economy.

Some analysts think a serious economic downturn, like what happened last year, likely will be averted because many people have been vaccinated. But they also think a return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity, especially in tourism, has been dramatically delayed.

In a world that is already unnerved by the more contagious delta variant that filled hospitals again in many places, even in some highly vaccinated nations, the latest developments underscored the need for the whole globe to get their hands on vaccines.

“We have vaccination rates in the United States, in Europe of 50, 60, 70 %, depending on exactly who you’re counting. And in Africa, it’s more like 14, 15 % or less,” Blinken said.

“We know, we know, we know that none of us will be fully safe until everyone is.”

Unvaccinated travellers to be  banned from planes, trains

CANADA – Unvaccinated travellers over the age of 12 won’t be able to board a plane or train in Canada beginning today, and a negative COVID-19 test will no longer serve as a substitute for most people. 

The policy came into effect on Oct. 30, but the federal government allowed a short transition period for unvaccinated travellers who could board as long as they provided a negative molecular COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before their trip.

The stringent new requirement comes into effect as Canada reacts to the emergence of the new, highly mutated Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The discovery of the new variant has prompted border closures and heavier screening in Canada and abroad over fears it could prove more transmissible.

The risk related to the Omicron variant is very high, according to the World Health Organization, but there is still a lot public health officials and scientists do not know about it. 

While anyone coming into Canada or boarding a plane or train inside the country must be vaccinated, there are currently no quarantine measures in place except for people who have recently transited through southern Africa.

While many airlines have so far been doing random spot checks to ensure travellers are vaccinated, Air Canada and West Jet have confirmed they will ask for proof from everyone boarding in Canada as of today.

Other measures, like masks and health screenings, will still be mandatory.

“If you indicate to your airline or railway company that you’re eligible to board, but fail to provide proof of vaccination or valid COVID-19 test result, you won’t be allowed to travel and could face penalties or fines,” the government’s website states.

The government has issued warnings on social media that even Canadians and permanent residents abroad will not be able to return home without a full slate of approved vaccines. 

There are some exceptions, including valid medical exemptions, travel to remote communities only accessible by plane, and those transiting through Canada en route to another destination.

Most people who qualify for an exemption will need a recent COVID-19 test.

The vaccine mandate was met with a positive reaction from Canada’s airline industry when it was first announced in October, though some companies worried about making the necessary preparations in time.

Since then the federal government announced a standardized proof-of-vaccination document, which has been distributed by provinces and territories for domestic and international travel.

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