Here’s your update with everything you need to know on the COVID-19 situation in B.C. and around the world for July 13, 2022.
We’ll provide summaries of what’s going on right here so you can get the latest news at a glance. This page will be updated regularly every day this week, with developments added as they happen, so be sure to check back often.
You can also get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here.
Here are the latest B.C. figures given on July 7 for June 26 – June 2:
• Hospitalized cases: 369
• Intensive care: 36
• New cases: 765 over seven days
• Total number of confirmed cases: 375,357
• Total deaths over seven days: 24 (total 3,788)
Read the full report here | Next update: July 14 at 1 p.m. (or later)
Headlines at a glance
• Astra’s COVID vaccine saved over six million lives in first year
• Shoppers Drug Mart among retailers rolling back pandemic protocols as mandates lift.
• Canadian incomes went up in 2020 amid uptake of pandemic benefits: census data
• The World Health Organization says COVID-19 remains a global emergency, nearly 2 1/2 years after it was first declared.
• Some Albertans will soon need a referral from doctor for PCR testing
• In the U.S., Biden officials push to offer second booster shots to all adults
• Hong Kong suspends some hospital services as virus cases swell
• Yet another Omicron variant has emerged and is raising concerns in India and beyond.
• Here’s a primer on COVID’s latest twist — the BA.4 and BA.5 variants — and how to protect against it.
• The European Union’s population shrank for a second year running last year as the region reels from more than two million deaths from the coronavirus.
• B.C. is set to roll out second booster program to British Columbians age 12+ starting in the fall.
• COVID hospitalizations in B.C. increased by 35 per cent this week.
• A COVID-19 wave among riders at the Tour de France, cycling’s biggest event, could decimate the event.
Astra’s COVID vaccine saved over six million lives in first year
COVID vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer Inc. had the biggest impact in preventing deaths in the first year of the global rollout, saving an estimated 12 million lives.
That’s the upshot of a new analysis from Airfinity Ltd., a London-based data firm. The AstraZeneca vaccine developed with the University of Oxford saved 6.3 million lives, Airfinity said Wednesday. The estimate for the Pfizer-BioNTech SE shot was 5.9 million.
The companies swiftly scaled up production and delivered doses before other manufacturers, according to the report. The findings build on a study last month estimating that vaccines saved about 20 million lives in the first year of the campaign, more than half of them in wealthier countries.
While vaccines from companies such as Pfizer, Moderna Inc., AstraZeneca and others have curbed hospitalizations and deaths, vast parts of the world still struggled to get access to shots last year and delivery snags, hesitancy and other challenges in recent months have hampered the effort.
While more than 7 million deaths were likely averted in countries covered by Covax, the World Health Organization-backed distribution program, research published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal highlighted the devastation caused by uneven access. About one in five lives lost due to Covid in poorer countries could have been prevented if WHO targets had been reached, the data show.
Airfinity said the AstraZeneca shot went first to older-age groups in high-income counties and nations with more vulnerable health-care systems. The firm determined that the Sinovac and Moderna vaccines saved about 2 million and 1.7 million lives, respectively.
Shoppers Drug Mart among retailers rolling back pandemic protocols as mandates lift
When the plexiglass barriers that have protected pharmacy workers at a Manitoba Shoppers Drug Mart since the early stages of the pandemic were taken down in June, not everyone was happy about it.
“It’s just alarming because people (customers) are coming in sick,” one employee said, asking not to be identified due to fear of repercussions from their employer. The employee said customers come in throughout the day for COVID-19 PCR tests and rapid antigen tests, as well as related medications.
While not meant to completely prevent transmission of the virus, the employee said the plexiglass barriers at the pharmacy counter served as a last piece of protection after customers were no longer required to wear face masks.
In an email, parent company Loblaw Companies Ltd. said removal of plexiglass barriers from Shoppers Drug Mart stores began in early June after a small pilot, and included taking down the barriers at cash registers.
It said the dividers were a temporary solution, implemented at the peak of the pandemic, to provide a barrier when social distancing could not be maintained.
“We’ve heard from store teams and customers that the dividers often make interactions more difficult,” the company said.
While masks aren’t required for customers, the company said pharmacy staff are still required to wear masks while other employees are “encouraged” to wear them.
Shoppers is one of a number of retailers to remove or roll back COVID-19 protocols introduced during the peak of the pandemic, as government-mandated restrictions have eased across the country.
Read the full story here.
— Postmedia News
Canadian incomes went up in 2020 amid uptake of pandemic benefits: census data
OTTAWA — Canadian incomes trended higher in 2020 everywhere except in Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador, as millions benefited from pandemic supports, according to new census data from Statistics Canada.
The agency reports that median after-tax household income was $73,000 in 2020, up 9.8 per cent compared to its last national survey five years earlier, partly driven by the losses of lower-paying jobs.
Despite fewer Canadians receiving employment income during the pandemic, census data suggest job losses were partly offset by COVID-19 benefits as about two-thirds of Canadian adults received payments from relief programs.
The number of Canadians earning less than $20,000 grew by more than 415,000 as many lower-paid jobs disappeared.
But the low-income rate fell overall and the number of Canadians who reported no income shrank by nearly a million compared to 2019.
Experts had cautioned that the income data, which is based on Canada Revenue Agency tax and benefits records, would form a complicated picture of the early pandemic and should be seen as a snapshot in time.
— The Canadian Press
WHO says COVID-19 remains a global health emergency
The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that COVID-19 remains a global emergency, nearly 2 1/2 years after it was first declared.
The Emergency Committee, made up of independent experts, said in a statement that rising cases, ongoing viral evolution and pressure on health services in a number of countries meant that the situation was still an emergency.
Cases reported to WHO had risen by 30 per cent in the last fortnight, the statement said, although the committee accepted that increased population immunity, largely from vaccines, had seen a “decoupling” of cases from hospitalizations and deaths.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accepted the committee’s advice.
The U.N. health agency first declared the highest level of alert, known as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, for COVID-19 on Jan. 30, 2020. Such a determination can help accelerate research, funding and international public health measures to contain a disease.
Read the full story here.
Some Albertans will soon need a referral from doctor for PCR testing
The Alberta government says it is changing how it tests people for COVID-19.
Starting next week, Albertans who need a PCR test to inform their medical treatment must have a referral from a health-care professional.
Clinicians are to determine the best testing option for their patients, which could include rapid testing at home or in a clinic, in-clinic swabbing with the sample sent to the lab for PCR testing or a referral to an Alberta Health Services site for testing.
Physicians will also be required to request lab tests on their patients’ behalf while using the Alberta Health Services online appointment booking system.
Self-referrals will still be available to people with symptoms who live or work in isolated Indigenous communities and workers in certain high-risk settings, such as health care, continuing care and correctional facilities.
Health Minister Jason Copping says in a statement that the changes would allow the province to direct its testing capacity toward those who are most at risk and allow health-care workers who were deployed to assessment centres during the pandemic to return to their regular roles.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, says Alberta can expect to see waves of COVID-19 continue into the fall.
“I would like to remind Albertans of the importance of monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick and, for those eligible for treatment, quickly accessing rapid or PCR testing when sick,” she said.
— The Canadian Press
U.S. CDC director: BA.5 estimated to represent 65% of circulating COVID-19 variants
The fast-spreading BA.5 sub-lineage of Omicron is estimated to make up 65 per cent of the coronavirus variants in the United States as of last week, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday.
The BA.5 and BA.4 variants together accounted for more than 80 per cent of circulating variants last week, with BA.4 making up 16 per cent, Walensky told reporters at a White House briefing, adding that the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospital admissions has doubled since early May.
Biden officials push to offer second booster shots to all adults
Biden administration officials are developing a plan to allow all adults to receive a second coronavirus booster shot, pending federal agency sign-offs, as the White House and health experts seek to blunt a virus surge that has sent hospitalizations to their highest levels since March 3.
Virus levels have risen across the country, fueled by ever-more-contagious omicron subvariants such as BA. 5 that evade some immune protections and have increased the risk of reinfections. About 112,000 new cases have been reported per day, according to The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day average – with the true number many times higher, say experts, as most Americans test at home.
Hospitalization and death levels are mounting, although they remain significantly below January peaks, with about 38,000 people hospitalized with covid as of Sunday, and an average daily death toll of 327 as of Monday.
Currently, a second booster shot is available only to those 50 and older, as well as to those 12 and older who are immunocompromised. But administration officials are concerned by data that suggests immunity wanes within several months of the first booster shot.
While the booster plan still needs formal sign-off from regulators and public health officials, it has the backing of White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha and Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, according to five officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plan.
While about 67% of all Americans have been fully vaccinated against the virus, only 34% of eligible Americans have received a first booster dose, according to federal data.
— Washington Post
Hong Kong suspends some hospital services as virus cases swell
Hong Kong suspended some non-emergency services in public hospitals as a surge in COVID patients strains the health-care system, with authorities warning the city’s virus situation continues to deteriorate.
Some public hospitals have started to reduce non-urgent procedures including endoscopies and elective surgeries in order to shift resources to caring for the rising number of Covid patients, Hospital Authority Chief Manager Sara Ho said at a briefing on Tuesday. If the situation continues to worsen, more non-urgent operations and some day-time services will need to be adjusted too, she said.
Hong Kong is facing a virus resurgence that’s pushed the number of patients in public hospitals to about 1,000. Health officials have warned that the daily number of infections could climb to as much as 6,000 in two weeks, from 2,558 new local cases reported on Tuesday, with 300 people hospitalized each day.
“These measures are to mobilize both the manpower and beds so as to accommodate and anticipate the upsurge of pandemic patients,” Ho said.
The warning of a surge in cases comes alongside changes from the new administration to the financial hub’s virus strategies. The government is considering introducing a health code system that would bring the city more in line with Covid Zero measures used in China, which prioritizes stamping out infection at great social and economic cost.
Yet another Omicron variant emerges, raises concerns in India and beyond
The quickly changing coronavirus has spawned yet another super contagious omicron mutant that’s worrying scientists as it gains ground in India and pops up in numerous other countries, including the United States.
Scientists say the variant — called BA.2.75 — may be able to spread rapidly and get around immunity from vaccines and previous infection. It’s unclear whether it could cause more serious disease than other omicron variants, including the globally prominent BA.5.
“It’s still really early on for us to draw too many conclusions,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “But it does look like, especially in India, the rates of transmission are showing kind of that exponential increase.” Whether it will outcompete BA.5, he said, is yet to be determined.
Read the full story here.
— The Associated Press
What we know about BA.4 and BA.5 — the latest subvariants to cause COVID surge
If one thing is clear about COVID-19, it’s that keeping track of its various permutations is a never-ending challenge. Just when regular people think they have a handle on SARS-COV-2 — the virus that causes COVID disease — and its journey through the human race, scientists do their best to confuse us with new nomenclature.
The latest is BA.4 and BA.5, the subvariants of the pathogen that are making their presence known in a big way and causing renewed concerns about the pandemic. Here’s a primer on COVID’s latest twist — and how to protect against it.
Read the full story here.
— Tom Blackwell, Postmedia News
Moderna to advance two Omicron vaccine candidates against newer variants
Moderna Inc said on Monday it was advancing two Omicron vaccine candidates for the fall, one designed against the BA.1 variant and another against the BA.4 and BA.5.
Vaccine makers including Moderna and rival Pfizer Inc are developing updated vaccines to target the fast-spreading Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which have gained a foothold in the United States over recent weeks.
Moderna said its decision to develop the bivalent vaccines was based on different market preferences for shots against the subvariants.
Bivalent vaccines are designed to target two different coronavirus variants – the original variant from 2020 and the newer Omicron variants.
Moderna said new clinical data for its mRNA-1273.214 vaccine, designed to target the BA.1 variant, showed significantly higher neutralizing antibody responses against the fast-spreading BA.4 and BA.5 compared with the currently authorized booster.
The company’s second booster candidate, mRNA 1273.222, is based on the BA.4/5 strain and is being developed in accordance with recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration advice.
Hit by COVID-19, EU population shrinks for second year running: Eurostat
The European Union’s population shrank for a second year running last year, the bloc’s statistics office said on Monday, as the region reels from over two million deaths from the coronavirus.
According to Eurostat, the population of the 27 countries that make up the bloc fell by close to 172,000 from the previous year and over 656,000 from January 2020.
“In 2020 and 2021 the positive net migration no longer compensated for the negative natural change in the EU and, as a consequence, the EU total population has been decreasing,” it said, pointing to impacts from the pandemic.
The number of deaths began outstripping births in the EU a decade ago, but immigration from outside the bloc helped offset the gap until the first year of the pandemic.
The previous time the EU had registered a fall in population was in 2011 – the only other time since 1960 – but this rapidly picked up due to net migration.
Given the pandemic, an aging population and relatively low fertility rates, Eurostat said deaths should continue to outstrip births in the coming years.
“Should this be the case,” it said, “the EU’s overall population decline or growth in the future is likely to depend largely on the contribution made by net migration.”
EU backs second COVID booster for over-60s, before variant-adapted vaccines are ready
European Union health agencies on Monday recommended a second COVID-19 booster for everyone over 60, as well as medically vulnerable people, amid a new rise in infections and hospitalisations across Europe.
While existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalization and death, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
EU health agencies have since April recommended a second booster only for those older than 80 and the most vulnerable.
The new recommendation is expected to facilitate national decisions to speed up vaccination campaigns, which have been slowing to nearly a halt in recent months.
“We are currently seeing increasing COVID-19 case notification rates and an increasing trend in hospital and ICU admissions and occupancy in several countries mainly driven by the BA 5 sublineage of (the) Omicron (coronavirus variant),” said Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), in a statement.
“This signals the start of a new, widespread COVID-19 wave across the European Union,” she said, adding that giving the over 60s and medically vulnerable a second booster now would avert a significant number of hospitalisations and deaths.
Vaccine makers, such as Moderna Inc and partners Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, have been testing versions of their COVID vaccines modified to combat the BA.1 Omicron variant.
Although they have said those vaccines generated a good immune response against BA.1 and the more recently circulating variants, they did see a lower response against BA.4 and BA.5.
B.C. to offer fall booster shots to everyone 12 and older starting September
Get ready to roll up your sleeves again.
B.C. health officials will be rolling out a vaccination campaign for second booster shots for millions of British Columbians age 12 and older in the fall, even as the province’s third wave of Omicron infections is already underway.
B.C. plans to offer this second round of booster shots to the general population starting September, following the recommendation of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, possibly using bivalent vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna which are currently awaiting regulatory approval by Health Canada.
“The best thing to do is wait for the fall,” said Dr. Penny Ballem, executive lead of B.C.’s immunization campaign at a news conference on Friday. “That’s when the risk is highest and that’s the strongest recommendation of when we want you to get your fall booster.”
Updates are expected to get sent out to British Columbians starting Monday, informing them of the recommended guidelines and encouraging them to sign up to get their shot in the fall.
Read the full story here.
— Cheryl Chan
Tour de France riders fear decimation due to COVID-19 surge
Tadej Pogacar’s rivals have been sharpening their knives as the Tour de France hits the Alps, but the biggest threat to the Slovenian’s quest for a third consecutive title might be the COVID-19 surge within the peloton.
Three riders in two days had to pull out of the race after being infected with the virus and showing symptoms, raising fears that the bunch could be decimated when all the riders will be tested on Sunday night and during the rest day in Morzine on Monday.
A tent was set up by the teams’ buses near the finish of Sunday’s ninth stage and riders and staff members were queuing up to take a swab.
Read the full story here.
Hospitalizations rise as third Omicron wave takes hold
The number of people in B.C. hospitals with COVID-19 jumped by 35 per cent in the last week as health experts warn of another Omicron wave.
On Thursday, 369 people were in hospital with the virus, up from last week’s 273. Out of the 369, 36 are in critical care.
The most recent data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, which releases its weekly update on the state of COVID-19 in the province every Thursday, shows 765 cases were reported from June 26 to July 2, up from 620 the week before.
During the same week, 24 people died within 30 days of a positive COVID-19 test. The deaths bring the total death toll in B.C. from the virus to 3,788.
— Cheryl Chan
What are B.C.’s current public health measures?
MASKS: Masks are not required in public indoor settings though individual businesses and event organizers can choose to require them.
Masks are also encouraged but not required on board public transit and B.C. Ferries, though they are still required in federally regulated travel spaces such as trains, airports and airplanes, and in health care settings.
GATHERINGS AND EVENTS: There are currently no restrictions on gatherings and events such as personal gatherings, weddings, funerals, worship services, exercise and fitness activities, and swimming pools.There are also no restrictions or capacity limits on restaurants, pubs, bars and nightclubs; and no restrictions on sport activities.
CARE HOMES: There are no capacity restrictions on visitors to long-term care and seniors’ assisted living facilities, however, visitors must show proof of vaccination before visiting. Exemptions are available for children under the age of 12, those with a medical exemption, and visitors attending for compassionate visits related to end-of-life.
Visitors to seniors’ homes are also required to take a rapid antigen test before visiting the facility or be tested on arrival. Exemptions to testing are available for those attending for compassionate visits or end-of-life care.
How do I get vaccinated in B.C.?
Everyone who is living in B.C. and eligible for a vaccine can receive one by following these steps:
• Get registered online at gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated to book an appointment in your community.
• Or, if you prefer, you can get registered and then visit a drop-in clinic in your health authority.
• The system will alert you when it is time to go for your second dose.
• The same system will also alert you when it is time for your booster dose.
Where can I get a COVID-19 test?
TESTING CENTRES: B.C.’s COVID-19 test collection centres are currently only testing those with symptoms who are hospitalized, pregnant, considered high risk or live/work with those who are high risk. You can find a testing centre using the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s testing centre map.
If you have mild symptoms, you do not need a test and should stay home until your fever is gone. Those without symptoms do not need a test.
TAKE-HOME RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS: Eligible British Columbians over the age of 18 with a personal health number can visit a pharmacy to receive a free take-home test kit containing five COVID-19 rapid antigen tests.
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