COVID-19 live updates: Kenney calls for travel ban to countries where ‘dangerous’ new variant is circulating; Privacy breach with Alberta’s QR code

Watch this page throughout the day for updates on COVID-19 in Edmonton

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With COVID-19 news changing every day, we have created this file to keep you up-to-date on all the latest stories and information in and around Edmonton.

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What’s happening now

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Share your COVID-19 stories

As Alberta continues to navigate the unpredictable waves of COVID-19, we’re looking to hear your stories on this evolving situation.

  • Have you or a loved one had a surgery rescheduled or cancelled in recent weeks?
  • Are you someone who has decided to get vaccinated after previously being skeptical of the vaccines?
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  • Are you a frontline health-care worker seeing new strains on the health system?
    Send us your stories via email at edm-feedback@postmedia.com


9:20 a.m.

Alberta’s Premier calls for federal government to ban travel to countries where ‘dangerous’ variant is circulating

Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney is asking the federal government to follow Britain’s lead and ban travel from countries where a new ‘dangerous’ COVID-19 variant is circulating.

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Scientists detect a new variant in South Africa with ‘very unusual’ mutations

Scientists in South Africa are studying a newly identified coronavirus variant of concern, stoking fears the country may face a potentially severe fourth wave that could spread globally.

The new variant, called B.1.1529 until a Greek letter is assigned, has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists told reporters at a news conference

B.1.1.529 is “clearly very different” from previous incarnations, Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities, said at a briefing on Thursday.

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“Here is a mutation variant of serious concern,” Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at the same media event. “We were hopeful that we might have a longer break in between waves — possibly that it would hold off to late December or even next year January.”

Virologists have detected almost 100 cases linked to the variant in the country to date, said Anne von Gottberg, clinical microbiologist & head of respiratory diseases at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

In Botswana, a neighbor of the South Africa, the new variant has been detected in vaccinated people, Kereng Masupu, coordinator of the Presidential COVID-19 Task Force, said in statement.

B.1.1529 is likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient, said Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute. The world’s biggest number of HIV cases has complicated South Africa’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, as immuno-compromised people can harbour the virus for longer, scientists say.

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-with files from Bloomberg News

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Thursday

Privacy breach with Alberta’s QR code vaccine records reported; new vaxport rules for skiing

Lauren Boothby

Alberta Health has temporarily de-activated its updated COVID-19 vaccine QR codes website after 12 people reported receiving the health records of different people when attempting to download their own information. Screenshot, Alberta Health website.
Alberta Health has temporarily de-activated its updated COVID-19 vaccine QR codes website after 12 people reported receiving the health records of different people when attempting to download their own information. Screenshot, Alberta Health website.

The province on Thursday evening reported a privacy breach with its updated COVID-19 vaccine record QR codes .

Twelve people reported that they received another person’s records — showing names, dates of birth, and COVID-19 vaccination status — when attempting to download their own updated QR codes, the province announced in a news release. Alberta Health said it shut down the website immediately to look into the issue, and that no other personal or health details are connected to the QR codes.

The government is investigating and said it doesn’t think the issue was caused by a security breach.

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“Protecting Albertans’ personal information is always our top priority and I apologize for this potential breach,” Health Minister Jason Copping said in a news release. “I want to assure Albertans they will be kept informed once the investigation is complete and the updated record for travel will be available as soon as the technical issue is addressed.”

Alberta Health notified the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner about the breach and investigation, the agency said.

The updated QR codes, meant to meet standards for international and domestic travel, first became available on Tuesday. The previous version is still accepted within the province.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said that while he’s glad Alberta Health apologized and moved quickly to fix the problem, he thinks Albertans are frustrated and disappointed with the pace these passports, needed for travel, have been rolled out.

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“They’ve been forced into a position where they had to rush things to try to catch up with other jurisdictions, and that ends up in a situation like this, where Albertans have their private information breached,” Shepherd said in an interview.

“This government waited until the last minute to even take action to get the vaccine passport program in place. It was very clear they were rushed. It was very clear that they were scrambling to do something that they had not wanted to do.”

Skiing? No vaxport required outside

Meantime, Alberta is updating the restriction exemption program — the province’s vaccine passport system — so people can ski without requiring proof of vaccination.

However, this only applies to time spent outside.

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Indoors, masks are still mandatory, as well as either restrictions or proof of vaccination. Physical distancing is still required for enclosed chairlifts and gondolas.

Alberta is also allowing trade shows, like holiday markets and arts and crafts fairs, to make use of vaccine passports.

“These changes maintain the intent of the (exemption program) – to keep Albertans safe – while reflecting what we’ve heard for businesses and venues to operate effectively,” Copping said in a news release earlier on Thursday.

379 cases

Another 379 COVID-19 cases were reported in Alberta on Thursday and one more person has died from the disease.

In total, 465 patients were hospitalized with the disease including 98 needing intensive care in Alberta. Province-wide, there were 4,969 active cases, including 1,119 in the Edmonton Zone and 1,880 in the Calgary Zone.

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Thursday

Edmonton Public Schools allowing families to choose online learning for second half of school year

Blair McBride

Students enter Percy Page High School in January to pick up computers so they can work from home, an option for learning that parents can now choose for their children for the second half of the 2021-2022 school year, Edmonton Public Schools announced on Tuesday. Greg Southam-Postmedia
Students enter Percy Page High School in January to pick up computers so they can work from home, an option for learning that parents can now choose for their children for the second half of the 2021-2022 school year, Edmonton Public Schools announced on Tuesday. Greg Southam-Postmedia Photo by Greg Southam /20092486A

Parents of children attending Edmonton Public Schools (EPSB) will be able to choose online learning for the second half of the school year.

Previously, families of K-12 students in the division could choose remote studying for the first half of the year with the expectation that all classes would be in person come January. Another option was to enrol at the online Argyll Centre for the entire year, which meant losing connection to their local school with no guarantee of being able to return next year.

Now, they will get to decide between online and in-person learning for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year. Families can change their current selection through their SchoolZone accounts starting Dec. 6 at 8 a.m. until Jan. 11 at 4 p.m.

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EPSB spokesperson Megan Normandeau said the decision to offer the choice comes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“While the division’s goal is for students to return to classrooms in person, some families may still want to choose how their child learns due to the ongoing pandemic,” she said.

The second half of the school year runs from Feb. 1 to June 28.

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Thursday

Immigrant workers at Alberta meat plants vulnerable to dangerous conditions made worse by COVID pandemic, research finds

Jason Herring, Calgary

Nearly 950 workers at Cargill’s High River plant tested positive for COVID-19 in spring of 2020.
Nearly 950 workers at Cargill’s High River plant tested positive for COVID-19 in spring of 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Todd Korol

Migrant and refugee workers in Alberta’s meat-packing plants face dangerous working conditions and precarious employment, according to new research from York University.

The research, conducted by Bronwyn Bragg and Jennifer Hyndman, alongside Calgary advocacy group ActionDignity, involved interviews and surveys with immigrant workers in the facilities.

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Those workers reported unsafe working conditions in meat-packing facilities, an issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty-two per cent of survey respondents said they or someone in their home had tested positive for the virus, and 34 per cent reported other work-related injuries.

“This industry is a high-risk environment for the spread of COVID-19, but we also know once you dig into the literature and the data that this industry has a long history of being what we would call 3D work: dirty, difficult and dangerous,” Bragg said.

“There are high rates of worker injury, and that really came through in our data.”

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Thursday

Study shows ‘amazing’ effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine in preventing death, hospitalizations

Blair Crawford, National Post

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A COVID-19 vaccine clinic is held in Ottawa on April 24, 2021.
A COVID-19 vaccine clinic is held in Ottawa on April 24, 2021. Photo by ASHLEY FRASER /POSTMEDIA NETWORK / FILES

Unvaccinated people account for 90.9 per cent of all COVID-19 hospitalizations in Ontario and 90.2 per cent of all deaths due to the disease, a new study from Public Health Ontario reveals.

Just 2.7 per cent of hospitalizations and 3.3 per cent of deaths in the province involved fully vaccinated people, the report shows.

“What it shows is that if you’re vaccinated, you’ll definitely be in the minority of people who end up with an infection, end up in hospital or end up dying,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen’s University in Kingston.

“It’s the prevention of bad outcomes like death that the vaccine does an amazing job at, upwards of 90 to 95 per cent,” Evans said.

The study, released this week, gives the most detailed look yet at the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario at both preventing infections and limiting severe outcomes. It examines data from Dec. 14, 2020 — the day of the first vaccinations in Ontario — until Nov. 14, and includes the early stages of booster doses for the province’s most vulnerable citizens.

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Over the 30 days prior to the report’s release, unvaccinated individuals were 4.8 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than fully vaccinated individuals, the study shows.

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Thursday

Six Canadian zoos will be getting COVID-19 vaccines developed for animals

Joanne Laucius, National Post

Richard, a western lowland gorilla who tested positive for COVID-19 in February 2021, sits inside its enclosure at closed Prague Zoo amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Prague, Czech Republic, November 10, 2020. Picture taken November 10, 2020.
Richard, a western lowland gorilla who tested positive for COVID-19 in February 2021, sits inside its enclosure at closed Prague Zoo amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Prague, Czech Republic, November 10, 2020. Picture taken November 10, 2020. Photo by DAVID W CERNY /REUTERS

A veterinary pharmaceutical giant is donating 900 doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine for animals to six Canadian zoos.

The vaccine, developed by U.S.-based Zoetis, the world’s largest producer of drugs and vaccines for pets and livestock, is not yet commercially available.

The vaccine is authorized for experimental use through the Canadian Centre for Veterinary Biologics of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as well as having a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit, Zoetis spokesperson Christina Lood said.

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She expects the zoos will receive the doses by the end of the year. The vaccines will be administered in two doses, three weeks apart. It is estimated that 450 zoo animals can be vaccinated.

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Letter of the day

snow, removal, windrows, sidewalk, sidewalks, seniorsA good samaritan helps Gisele Sabrowski push her electric scooter out of the snow, after she became stuck on a Whyte Avenue sidewalk near 109 Street, in Edmonton Wednesday Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by David Bloom
snow, removal, windrows, sidewalk, sidewalks, seniorsA good samaritan helps Gisele Sabrowski push her electric scooter out of the snow, after she became stuck on a Whyte Avenue sidewalk near 109 Street, in Edmonton Wednesday Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by David Bloom Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

I walk daily, usually 6-7 kilometres, taking me through residential neighbourhoods, school yards, and business districts in the Rutherford area. Maybe it’s just contractors slowly getting up to speed, but I have noted high frozen ridges at most path/sidewalk/roadway intersections. With a little extra attention they could be cleaned up along with the walkways.

I actually watched an elderly gentleman on a motorized chair navigate one of these ridges this morning. He was a feisty old gent and he went over it like a pro. But as I walked on, I wondered how others, without this man’s obvious gusto, would do in the same situation. I also wondered how young moms with a child in tow and one in a stroller would manage, maneuvering over one of these, sometimes six-inch ridges or perhaps a person with impaired vision?

The civic government has spent time and money dropping curbs, and installing ribbed approaches and tactile plates, so that it makes crossing a street much easier for all these folks. Perhaps doing something as simple as making sure they are clear of snow and ice might be just as helpful?

Marc Jackson, Edmonton

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Letters Welcome

We invite you to write letters to the editor. A maximum of 150 words is preferred. Letters must carry a first and last name, or two initials and a last name, and include an address and daytime telephone number. All letters are subject to editing. We don’t publish letters addressed to others or sent to other publications. Email: letters@edmontonjournal.com


Wednesday

About 1,500 young children’s COVID-19 vaccine appointments cancelled after shots booked at four Alberta pharmacies in error

Lauren Boothby

Boxes of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to be administered to children aged five to 11, at the Beaumont Health offices in Southfield, Michigan, on Nov. 5, 2021.
Boxes of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to be administered to children aged five to 11, at the Beaumont Health offices in Southfield, Michigan, on Nov. 5, 2021. Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP

About 1,500 youngsters expecting to get a COVID-19 shot at Alberta pharmacies in the coming days will have their appointments cancelled.

Vaccination bookings for children aged five to 11 opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday in Alberta, but four pharmacies — three in Edmonton and one in Airdrie — were incorrectly listed, according to Alberta Health. In both of these cities, Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine is only being offered at Alberta Health Services’ sites.

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Michael Francoeur, spokesperson for Alberta Health, said incorrect locations were removed from Alberta Health’s system within an hour. He apologized to those who need to reschedule.

“We are aware of four pharmacies that incorrectly opened pediatric vaccine appointments in the Alberta vaccine booking system early (Wednesday) morning … The four pharmacies are in the process of cancelling these appointments and notifying individuals,” he said in an email statement.

“On behalf of these pharmacies and the province, we apologize for the inconvenience to Albertans.”

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Wednesday

Ninety-six per cent of Alberta Health staff vaccinated ahead of Nov. 30 deadline

Jason Herring, Calgary

https://smartcdn.prod.postmedia.digital/calgaryherald/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/1011-sp-ahs-sp.jpg
https://smartcdn.prod.postmedia.digital/calgaryherald/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/1011-sp-ahs-sp.jpg PNimg

More than 96 per cent of Alberta Health Services staff have submitted proof of vaccination against COVID-19 ahead of next week’s deadline.

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And though there remains thousands of staff who are still not in compliance with the AHS vaccine mandate, which comes into effect Nov. 30, the provincial health authority said no disruptions to services are anticipated as a result of any staffing losses.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 96.1 per cent of full- and part-time AHS staff had provided proof they are fully immunized. That count includes nearly all physicians — 99.8 per cent — but excludes casual employees, only 82 per cent of whom have submitted vaccine proof.

The numbers have increased from last month, when staffing concerns contributed to an AHS decision to extend its mandatory vaccination deadline to give staff an extra month to get the shot. At that time, vaccine uptake sat at 92 per cent.

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The mandate extends to all employees, medical and midwifery staff, students, volunteers and contracted health-care providers, including staff at AHS as well as Alberta Precision Labs, Carewest, CapitalCare and Covenant Health. Those who do not comply with the mandate will be put on unpaid leave.

The health authority and its subsidiaries encompass about 121,100 staff, according to the AHS website, in addition to an estimated 9,000 physicians who are AHS medical staff members. Those counts mean about 4,800 staff could be placed on leave due to non-compliance with the vaccine mandate.

AHS spokesman James Wood said the health authority has contingency plans to ensure patient care is not affected by the mandate, which could involve reassigning staff to work in areas with lower vaccine coverage.

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“Health-care professionals have a unique responsibility to protect their own health as well as the well-being of those around them who may be at risk,” Wood said in an emailed statement.

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Wednesday

Calgary Zoo to vaccinate some animals when doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Canada

Stephanie Babych, Calgary

Members of the Calgary Zoo are seen entering a private opening prior to the Zoo opening to the public. Friday, May 22, 2020.
Members of the Calgary Zoo are seen entering a private opening prior to the Zoo opening to the public. Friday, May 22, 2020. Photo by Brendan Miller/Postmedia

Animals vulnerable to COVID-19 infection at the Calgary Zoo will be vaccinated as soon as doses designed for animals are available, according to zoo officials.

The Wilder Institute and Calgary Zoo continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation while maintaining personal protective equipment use around sensitive species, the Calgary Zoo said in a statement Wednesday. Though it isn’t yet known when doses will arrive, the zoo said some animals will be immunized when they do.

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“The animals we love and care for will be provided with COVID-19 vaccine protection as soon as it’s available,” the statement said.

In the meantime, employees and volunteers are vaccinated in accordance with the COVID-19 vaccination policy at the zoo, which includes the animal care department.

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Wednesday

NDP health critic calls on province for rural supports for COVID-19 long haulers

Laura Beamish

NDP health critic David Shepherd wants the Alberta government to release all of the modelling and scientific data used to justify stopping the test-trace-isolate system during a news conference in Edmonton on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.
NDP health critic David Shepherd wants the Alberta government to release all of the modelling and scientific data used to justify stopping the test-trace-isolate system during a news conference in Edmonton on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia

Fort McMurray — David Shepherd, the NDP’s critic for health, is calling on the UCP government to address heath-care supports for people in rural Alberta with long-term problems linked to COVID-19.

At a press conference in Fort McMurray, Shepherd said the government needs to create a task force tracking how many Albertans have long-COVID symptoms. He also urged the government to fund research and provide extra support for patients.

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The task force would provide guidelines to help Albertans with long COVID qualify for income support and human rights protections. For now, a patient needs to be diagnosed with a condition meeting the standards of the Disability-Related Employment Supports and Services Regulation.

“Jason Kenney and his health minister must publicly acknowledge long COVID in the legislature, dispel the mystery and stigma of this condition, and lay out their plans to support Albertans who are living with this condition,” he said.

Since the pandemic started in March 2020, more than 332,000 Albertans have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Research is limited and ongoing, but Alberta Health Services (AHS) estimates 20 per cent of recovered COVID-19 patients will have long-term health problems for at least 12 weeks.

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Long COVID symptoms vary and last days or months. They include damaged lungs, frequent coughing, organ failure and blood clots. In extreme cases, blood clots have caused amputations. People have reported neurological problems linked to taste, smell or hearing, and pains in hands and feet.

“I asked the health minister about his government’s plan to address this in the legislature last week and the minister didn’t even want to say that long-COVID existed,” said Shepherd.

A spokesperson for Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping did not return comment by deadline. But during Tuesday’s question period at the legislature, Copping acknowledged long-term health problems in some recovered COVID-19 patients. The interaction took place after the press conference.

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“If and when dedicated services are needed, AHS and clinicians will determine what those services are and how they should be organized,” he said.

Christina Gray, NDP critic for labour and immigration, challenged Copping to support coverage for workers who caught COVID-19 in the workplace. She also urged him to immediately begin tracking and publicly reporting long-term COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’re continuing to study the effects of long COVID, what the impacts will be on our health system, and we will watch this carefully,” said Copping. “I’m sure that AHS and Alberta Health will make recommendations to us to be able to provide the funding that we need to be able to support this and all of the diseases that Albertans face.”

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Wednesday

Europe’s rejection of AstraZeneca vaccine caused its COVID-19 surge, CEO says

Lynn Chaya, National Post

Empty vials of Oxford/AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine amid a vaccination campaign,
Empty vials of Oxford/AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine amid a vaccination campaign, Photo by Yves Herman/Reuters

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot says he might have an explanation for the surge in infections engulfing Europe — not enough people took his vaccine.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Soriot said that differences in T-cell immunity between vaccines could potentially mean that those who received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab had longer-lasting protection against COVID-19.

“It’s really interesting when you look at the U.K.,” he said. “There was a big peak of infections but not so many hospitalizations relative to Europe. In the U.K. [the Oxford/AstraZeneca] vaccine was used to vaccinate older people whereas in Europe, people thought initially the vaccine doesn’t work in older people.”

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Hesitancy around the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine began earlier this year when Germany became the first European country to discourage the jab for people older than 65, citing insufficient data for the vaccine’s safe use in this age group and a risk of blood clots. Canada, Italy, France, Poland and Sweden quickly followed suit.

In March of this year, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunizations halted the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine despite Health Canada’s authorization for it to be administered to adults of all ages. NACI later made that advisory applicable to people younger than 55.

“People should appreciate that not all blood clots are created the same,” infectious diseases physician Isaac Bogoch told CBC. “This is a very specific and particular method of blood clotting that likely has an association with the vaccine.”

Countries that suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine ultimately reversed the advisory once more data was made available.

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Wednesday

Ottawa clarifies COVID-19 travel exemption after dozens in B.C. fined for crossing into U.S.

The Canadian Press

Homes on Boundary Bay in Delta, B.C., left, and Point Roberts, Wash., right, are separated by the Canada-U.S. border which is just north of Roosevelt Way, centre, in Point Roberts, as seen in an aerial view on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.
Homes on Boundary Bay in Delta, B.C., left, and Point Roberts, Wash., right, are separated by the Canada-U.S. border which is just north of Roosevelt Way, centre, in Point Roberts, as seen in an aerial view on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. Photo by Darryl Dyck /THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal minister of emergency preparedness says border guards have been advised that British Columbia residents can cross into the United States for essential supplies because of flooding in the province after some travellers were reportedly facing fines or told they would have to quarantine on returning to Canada.

Cloverdale resident Trina Brady said she crossed into the States on Monday morning and bought fuel, two containers of milk and a block of cheese before returning home.

On her way back, she presented her Nexus card, immunization records and her shopping receipts to a border agent, but was then asked if she had a PCR test.

When she replied she didn’t need one, she said the agent told her she was mistaken and presented two options: stay in the United States and get a PCR test or continue into Canada with a $5,750 fine from the health authority for violating the Quarantine Act.

“I decided to take the fine and they gave me a COVID test kit and told me to go and quarantine until I received a negative test,” she said.

She spent the next day calling government and health agencies requesting answers.

“We’re really getting nowhere,” she said Tuesday night. “All we’ve gotten was a response from the federal government saying that never should have happened and it was erroneous, but they have yet to lift the quarantine off of me.”

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Wednesday

COVID-19 vaccine bookings open for children aged 5 to 11

A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children is pictured at the Meuhedet Healthcare Services Organisation in Tel Aviv on Nov. 22, 2021, as Israel begins coronavirus vaccination campaign for 5 to 11-year-olds.
A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children is pictured at the Meuhedet Healthcare Services Organisation in Tel Aviv on Nov. 22, 2021, as Israel begins coronavirus vaccination campaign for 5 to 11-year-olds. Photo by JACK GUEZ

Parents of children ages 5 to 11 can now go online and book first doses of COVID-19 for that age group.

As of 8 a.m. appointments can be booked through the AHS online tool or by calling 811.

Alberta is scheduled to receive 394,000 pediatric Pfizer doses by the end of this week, enough for every child in this age group to get their first shot. The first shipment arrived Tuesday.

Health Canada approved the child-safe version of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for this age group last week.

Appointments open Friday. Vaccines will be offered at 120 Alberta Health Services (AHS) clinics but parents can pre-register online to save time. A handful of pharmacies are also giving them out where AHS sites are not convenient, and children on First Nations reserves can visit a local public health clinic.

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