COVID-19 live updates: NACI to issue new booster guidelines; 10.3 per cent of kids aged 5-11 vaccinated; Confusion at Canadian airports

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

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    Send us your stories via email at edm-feedback@postmedia.com


9:23 a.m.

NACI to issue new COVID-19 booster guidelines in face of Omicron

The Canadian Press

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The new variant identified as B.1.1.529 has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and assigned the name Omicron.
The new variant identified as B.1.1.529 has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and assigned the name Omicron. Getty Images

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is set to release new guidance this morning on the use of COVID-19 vaccine boosters as public health faces down the threat of the Omicron variant.

The new variant came to light late last week, and has sparked tougher border measures around the world as the World Health Organization warns the high number of mutations could signal that it is more transmissible than previous strains.

The government issued an urgent request to the advisory committee for new directives on the eligibility criteria for boosters to protect Canadians against the new version of the virus.

“We know that Canadians are asking increasingly about whether they should … receive boosters, and that question is obviously of greater importance now with the new variant,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a press conference Tuesday.

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“We are explicitly asking NACI to come up quickly with a revised view on where and how and to whom these boosters should be administered.”

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8:06 a.m.

BioNTech CEO says it is possible to quickly adapt Pfizer vaccine for Omicron

Reuters

A vial and syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer and Biontech logo in this illustration taken Jan. 11, 2021. The vaccine presents a “significant oppotunity” to make profits after the pandemic is over, executive says.
A vial and syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer and Biontech logo in this illustration taken Jan. 11, 2021. The vaccine presents a “significant oppotunity” to make profits after the pandemic is over, executive says. Photo by Dado Ruvic / Reuters

Germany’s BioNTech should be able to adapt its coronavirus vaccine relatively quickly in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, its CEO Ugur Sahin told the Reuters Next conference on Friday.

BioNTech and Pfizer Inc together produced one of the first vaccines against COVID-19 and Sahin also said that vaccines should continue to provide protection against severe disease, despite mutations.

“This variant might be able to infect vaccinated people. We anticipate that infected people who have been vaccinated will still be protected against severe disease,” Sahin said.

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The BioNTech chief executive also said that mutations in the virus meant it was more likely that annual vaccinations would become likely, as is the case with seasonal flu and that a new vaccine would be needed against COVID-19, although it was not yet clear when it would be required.

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Thursday

One new case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant identified in Alberta on Thursday

Anna Junker


Alberta reported one new case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant on Thursday, while more than 10 per cent of Albertans aged five to 11 have received their first dose of vaccine.

There are now a total of four cases of the new variant of concern in the province. Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced the latest case in a tweet, adding it was identified in a traveller who recently returned from Nigeria.

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As of end-of-day Wednesday, out of the 391,430 Albertans aged five to 11 years old who are eligible to receive a vaccine, 10.3 per cent have received their first dose. This is an increase of 1.7 per cent from the previous day.

Vaccine coverage for Albertans aged 12 and older is also steadily climbing. Of those eligible, 88.9 per cent have received at least one dose, while 84.1 per cent are fully vaccinated.

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Thursday

Confusion at Canadian Airports: Few details on COVID-19 testing rules for travellers

The Canadian Press

A traveller arrives for a mandatory hotel quarantine near Toronto’s Pearson Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic, February 22, 2021.
A traveller arrives for a mandatory hotel quarantine near Toronto’s Pearson Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic, February 22, 2021. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Confusion has been growing at some Canadian airports that say they want more direction from the federal government since it changed COVID-19 testing rules for travellers.

As health officials from around the world warned about the new Omicron variant, Ottawa announced earlier this week that all air passengers entering Canada, except those from the United States, need to be tested upon arrival and isolate until they get their results.

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The rule also applies to those who are fully vaccinated against the virus.

But there have been few details on when testing will start.

Giovanni Taboylilson said he was tired and puzzled after arriving Thursday at Edmonton International Airport from Jamaica. He said he was told by airport officials during his layover in Toronto that new rules were kicking in at midnight

He said he was randomly selected for a test in Toronto, was told his results would be available in three days, and was allowed to continue to Edmonton.

“They stamped my passport and let me go through, so that’s what made no sense,” the 25-year-old DJ said after visiting his family in Jamaica for eight months.

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Thursday

What does Omicrion mean for Canada’s vaccinated majority?

Devika Desai, National Post

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SARS-CoV-2, also known as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S.
SARS-CoV-2, also known as the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Photo by Reuters

News of the Omicron variant has many Canadians dreading yet another lockdown, two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authorities remain on high alert in Canada since confirming at least seven cases of the variant as of Tuesday, but early data out of South Africa, which first reported the variant’s development, suggest that it has mostly targeted the unvaccinated.

So what does the Omicron variant mean for a Canadian population whose majority are vaccinated?

It’s too early to say for sure, but it’s possible a highly vaccinated population could reduce the variant’s transmissibility and the likelihood of severe illnesses and increased hospitalizations, said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician at Trillium hospital in Mississauga, Ont.

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“It’s important to note that we can’t come to any strong conclusions about anything (right now),” Chakrabarti emphasized.

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Thursday

Speaker rules board exceeded it’s authority in imposing COVID vaccine mandate for Commons

The Canadian Press

Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota.
Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota. Photo by Blair Gable/Reuters/File

House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota says the chamber’s governing body overstepped its authority when it required anyone entering the Commons precinct to be fully vaccinated.

Rota has sided with the Conservatives in concluding that the all-party board of internal economy did not have the authority to impose a vaccine mandate.

He says only the House itself can make a decision to restrict access to the chamber and other parliamentary buildings.

However, Rota’s ruling changes nothing for MPs or anyone else wanting access to the precinct.

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Thursday

COVID-19 vaccine now mandatory to get euthanized in Germany

Lynn Chaya, National Post

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Carlos Osorio /Reuters

Amid rising COVID infections and the looming possibility of mandatory vaccination across Europe, the German Euthanasia Association Verein Sterbehilfe is ahead of the curve. In a statement made this week, the organization declared it will only euthanize those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the disease.

“Euthanasia and the preparatory examination of the voluntary responsibility of our members willing to die require human closeness,” they said. “Human closeness, however, is a prerequisite and breeding ground for coronavirus transmission. As of today, the 2G rule applies in our association, supplemented by situation-related measures, such as quick tests before encounters in closed rooms.”

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Balancing the protection of its members, employees and doctors is a “difficult task”, the statement says, but Dr. Martin Großmann, the head of the medical team, is on hand to advise.

Only 68 per cent of Germany’s population is vaccinated. On Dec. 1, The country recorded 446 deaths, its highest daily COVID death toll in nine months, along with a staggering 75,456 positive cases.

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Thursday

UFC President Dana White says he found out he had COVID and called Joe Rogan straight away

National Post Staff

Announcer Joe Rogan reacts during UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 09, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Announcer Joe Rogan reacts during UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 09, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Dana White says he sought medical advice from Joe Rogan after he caught a breakthrough case of COVID-19 over Thanksgiving.

The UFC President told Jim Rome Podcast on Wednesday that he and his family contracted the virus while spending Thanksgiving holiday in Maine.

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“Somebody up there had it, and we get back, and we all tested positive for COVID. Literally the whole family and my family up in Maine, too,” he said , per the website MMA Fighting.

White, 52, said while finishing up his usual morning ritual of taking a cold plunge and steam on Sunday he realized his sense of smell was gone.

“I get out of the cold plunge, and I get in the steam, and I spray the eucalyptus, and I couldn’t smell anything,” White said. “So I open the bottle, I start sniffing the bottle of eucalyptus, and I’m like yeah, I got no smell. So you know what this means. I literally got out of the steam, picked up my phone and called Joe Rogan.”

White said he “could not feel better” thanks to his Rogan-approved prescription, which included a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies, vitamins and ivermectin, a drug first discovered in 1975 as a treatment for parasitic infections in livestock and pets and later used for humans to treat parasitic worms, head lice and rosacea.

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A number of clinical trials have shown ivermectin to be ineffective in treating coronavirus. “People need to realize it doesn’t work and it’s not safe,” Dr. Davidson Hamer of Boston Medical Center recently told NBC 10.

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Thursday

By early next week, all air travellers to U.S. will require COVID test within last 24 hours

The Canadian Press

Canada, meanwhile, has for now exempted U.S. visitors from its stringent new rules, which require all other foreign air travellers to get tested upon arrival and self-isolate while awaiting the results.
Canada, meanwhile, has for now exempted U.S. visitors from its stringent new rules, which require all other foreign air travellers to get tested upon arrival and self-isolate while awaiting the results. Photo by Mario Tama /Getty Images

By early next week, Canadians and all other foreign visitors who travel to the United States by air will need to get a COVID-19 test no later than the day before their departure.

U.S. President Joe Biden is slashing the current 72-hour testing window for fully vaccinated travellers as part of a suite of public health measures aimed at slowing the spread of the highly mutated Omicron variant.

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A White House background briefing on the plan late Wednesday made no mention of land borders, or whether fully vaccinated Canadians who drive south would be required to show a test result.

The rise of Omicron marks only the latest twist in the long road back to some semblance of normality for people who routinely travel back and forth between the two countries.

It’s been less than a month since the U.S. lifted its restrictions on fully vaccinated non-essential travellers seeking to enter the country by land from Canada and Mexico.

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Letter of the day

Santa learns to live with Covid virus. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes)
Santa learns to live with Covid virus. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes) Malcolm Mayes

Politicians need regulatory body

What if politicians were bound by an ethical code and duty to serve by a regulatory body, the same way physicians, nurses, educators, therapists, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and trades professionals are?

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What if they had to prove a minimum level of understanding of subjects relevant to policymaking before being able to practise? What if they had to consider the full societal and economic impacts of health, education, and investment decisions over a period that spans longer than their careers?

What if they were liable for the shortfalls in public safety from their policy decisions during a pandemic that led to COVID case rates higher than every other province?

If politicians were professionals, the UCP would have countless cases of malpractice, and their licences likely revoked. Perhaps they could learn from the exemplary Albertan and Canadian professional bodies, whose members must uphold their professions in a hostile environment.

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Nicolas Menon, Edmonton


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

Ottawa, provinces mull expansion of COVID-19 tests for arriving American travellers

The Canadian Press

Travellers walk near an electronic flight notice board displaying cancelled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Nov. 27, 2021.
Travellers walk near an electronic flight notice board displaying cancelled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Nov. 27, 2021. Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP /Getty

Not all Canadian airports will have the capacity to immediately begin testing arriving air travellers from countries other than the United States for COVID-19, the federal health minister said Wednesday.

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Ottawa announced on Tuesday that all air travellers entering Canada, except for those coming from the U.S., would need to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport and isolate until they get their results, even if they are fully vaccinated against the virus.

The stricter measures come as public health officials around the world warn of the potentially dangerous new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“The directive to put that into place is now active. So the direction is given as of yesterday. And of course that will take time to implement; it will take time,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday.

“The speed of implementation will also vary in local airport conditions. There are airports in Canada which can start doing that really quickly because there is excess capacity. Other airports will take a bit more time.”

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Wednesday

Majority of Canadians unwilling to let unvaccinated friends or family member into their home: poll

Tyler Dawson, National Post

Christmas gatherings may be tough to negotiate between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, says new poll. Getty Images/iStock Photo
Christmas gatherings may be tough to negotiate between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, says new poll. Getty Images/iStock Photo

With Christmas fast approaching, and family dinners and workplace parties, a majority of Canadians are unwilling to let an unvaccinated friend or family member into their home, according to new polling from Leger-ACS.

While the overwhelming majority of Canadians are vaccinated, with 75 per cent of the total population fully vaccinated, the poll says three-quarters of Canadians do know someone who’s unvaccinated.

Fifty-seven per cent say they wouldn’t invite an unvaccinated person into their home, a rate that’s highest in British Columbia at 70 per cent, and lowest in Atlantic Canada at 50 per cent. Fifty-five per cent of Ontarians and Quebecers wouldn’t do so, nor would 59 per cent of those in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and 58 per cent of Albertans.

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English speakers (58 per cent) are more likely to say no to the unvaccinated than French speakers (54 per cent).

“The takeaway is that it’s going to be challenging for a lot of people when they’re interacting over the holidays,” said Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies.

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Wednesday

Alberta expands COVID-19 booster shots to anyone 18 and older

Anna Junker

The former Calgary Trail Derrick Dodge car dealership location has been turned into a drive thru COVID-19 travel testing business on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The Go Rapid Test is located at 6311 104 St.
The former Calgary Trail Derrick Dodge car dealership location has been turned into a drive thru COVID-19 travel testing business on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The Go Rapid Test is located at 6311 104 St. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

COVID-19 booster shot eligibility is being expanded to all Albertans aged 18 and older, while two more cases of the Omicron variant were identified in the province Wednesday.

Albertans aged 60 and older who are six months past their second dose of vaccine will be able to book their third dose on Thursday, with appointments starting Monday, Health Minister Jason Copping announced. The rollout of boosters for subsequent age groups will be dependent on vaccine supply.

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“Booster doses will be administered by appointment and walk-ins at some sites,” Copping said.

“Appointments will be available at more than 1,400 pharmacies across the province, as well as AHS sites and participating physician clinics, and clinics on reserve.”

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Wednesday

U.S. identifies first case of Omicron, as the race intensifies to trace the new COVID-19 variant

Reuters

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks about the Omicron coronavirus variant case, which was detected in California, during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks about the Omicron coronavirus variant case, which was detected in California, during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The United States identified its first case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in California, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

The person was a traveller who returned to the United States from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive seven days later and suffered mild symptoms, officials said.

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That patient was fully vaccinated but did not have a booster shot, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. infectious disease official, who briefed reporters at the White House.

“The individual is self-quarantining and all close contacts have been contacted and all close contacts thus far have tested negative,” said Fauci, who also serves as an adviser to President Joe Biden. “The individual was fully vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms which are improving at this point.”


Wednesday

U.S. tightens travel rules as more countries secure borders to quell Omicron

Reuters

A medical worker prepares a dose of the “Comirnaty” Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center in Nice, France, December 1, 2021.
A medical worker prepares a dose of the “Comirnaty” Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center in Nice, France, December 1, 2021. Photo by ERIC GAILLARD /REUTERS

Air travelers to the United States https://www.reuters.com/world/us-tightens-covid-19-travel-rules-countries-race-quell-omicron-threat-2021-12-01 will face tougher COVID-19 testing rules and other countries tightened border controls on Wednesday to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant that Nigeria said had been circulating weeks earlier than thought.

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Retrospective tests on confirmed COVID-19 infections in travelers to Nigeria had identified the Omnicron variant among a sample collected in October, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control said, without naming the country of origin.

South Africa first reported the variant a week ago and many countries have responded by curbing travel from there and other places deemed most exposed amid uncertainty about how easily the variant can spread and whether it can evade vaccine protection.

Data from other countries already shows the variant was circulating before it was officially identified in South Africa and cases have appeared around the world, with numbers expected to grow. Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

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