COVID-19 update for Aug. 29: Risk of infection remains high as COVID wave peaks in B.C. | No more free rapid tests in U.S. as of Sept. 2 | China’s Shenzhen shuts key electronics market to fight COVID

Here’s your daily update with everything you need to know on the coronavirus situation in B.C. and around the world.

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Here’s your update with everything you need to know on the COVID-19 situation in B.C. and around the world for Aug. 29, 2022.

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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.

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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 weekly B.C. figures given on Aug. 25:

• Hospitalized cases: 331
• Intensive care: 29
• New cases: 737 over seven days ending Aug. 20
• Total number of confirmed cases: 381,788
• Total deaths over seven days ending Aug. 20: 33 (total 4,097)

Read the full report here | Next update: Sept. 1

Headlines at a glance

• No more free at-home COVID tests for Americans as of Sept. 2
• More than 3,400 Quebec health-care workers off sick with COVID
• Hundreds protest Western University vaccine mandate
Risk of infection remains high as COVID wave peaks in B.C.
Moderna sues Pfizer over patents behind COVID-19 vaccine
• CBSA says it’s investigating border officer spreading COVID conspiracies online.
• COVID compounds health-care worker shortages in the North
• Manitobans who flouted COVID restrictions fined
• Djokovic’s scratched U.S. Open bid spotlights maligned COVID vaccine policy
• Weekly update: 33 deaths over seven-day period; 331 people in hospital
Quebec opens latest vaccination campaign to all adults
• Group files constitutional challenge of ArriveCan app

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Free at-home COVID tests to be suspended in the U.S. on Sept. 2

Starting next week, Americans will not be able to order free at-home COVID tests from a website set up by the U.S. government due to limited supply.

The website, set up amid the Omicron variant surge, helped U.S. households secure COVID tests at no cost.

President Joe Biden in January pledged to procure 1 billion free tests for Americans, including 500 million available through the website. However, ordering through the program will be suspended on Sept. 2.

According to a notification on the website, the decision was made as “Congress hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests.”

— Reuters

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No new deaths in Quebec, but many health-care workers sick

Quebec reported 473 new cases of COVID-19 Monday through PCR testing at its clinics.

However, because this method of testing is not accessible to most Quebecers, the case numbers are not representative of the situation in the province.

About 3,403 health-care workers are absent from work for reasons linked to COVID-19.

There were no new deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

The province’s death toll is 16,334 since the pandemic began in 2020.

Statistics on the number of patients hospitalized will be released on Tuesday.

— Montreal Gazette

China’s Shenzhen shuts key electronics market to fight COVID

Authorities in China’s southern city of Shenzhen temporarily closed the world’s largest electronics market of Huaqiangbei and suspended service at 24 subway stations in a bid to curb an outbreak of COVID-19 on Monday.

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Three key buildings of the sprawling area, comprised of thousands of stalls selling microchips, telephone parts, and other components to manufacturers, will stay closed until Sept 2.
Local community officials confirmed Monday’s closure to Reuters, while three people working there said building managers had told them to work from home.

The same official Shenzhen channels called a halt to subway services at 24 stations in the central districts of Futian and Luohu.

On Monday, the tech hub of 18 million people reported nine symptomatic and two asymptomatic cases from testing the previous day.

— Reuters

Japan panel approves AstraZeneca’s Evusheld COVID treatment

Japan’s health ministry said on Monday that its panel of experts had agreed to approve manufacturing and sales of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 preventive treatment Evusheld.

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Evusheld is designed to protect against COVID infection for at least six months, and has been deployed in many countries for people with compromised immune systems who see little or no benefit from vaccines.

The panel also gave its consent to using Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for booster shots for children aged five to 11, the ministry said.

— Reuters

‘Only the beginning’: Hundreds protest Western University vaccine mandate

A protest against Western University’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate drew hundreds of people to the southwestern Ontario campus on Saturday for what an event organizer called the beginning of the push to overturn the controversial policy.

Demonstrators marched around campus and listened to speakers denounce the London, Ont., university’s decision to mandate at least three vaccine doses for staff, students and some visitors.

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Organizer Kendra Hancock said she hoped the demonstration would lead to public negotiations and further student consultation over the university’s rules, which also include mandatory masking in classrooms.

— The Canadian Press

Risk of infection remains high as COVID wave peaks in B.C.

COVID-19 cases should start to decline over the next month as the latest wave peaks, but the risk of infection is still high, says a COVID-19 disease modeller.

Data showing COVID-19 infections driven by the Omicron subvariant BA.5 have peaked is good news, said Sally Otto, an evolutionary biologist at the University of British Columbia.

“But it means we’re at the peak, the risks right now are really high — near an all-time-high infection risk for British Columbia at the moment — so we should be acting accordingly,” she said.

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Otto is co-editor of the COVID-19 Modelling Group, which released its latest update last week. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control released new data Thursday that confirmed BA.5 infections have peaked and aren’t growing, but there are no strong signs of decline yet, Otto said.

Judging by the reduction in people masking in public indoor areas, some people believe the pandemic is over, but it’s definitely not, said Otto.

As of Thursday, there were 331 people in hospital with COVID-19, which is still a concerning number, although down from the all-time-high of 1,038 on Jan. 31, she said.

— Victoria Times Colonist

Moderna sues Pfizer over patents behind COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna is suing Pfizer and the German drugmaker BioNTech, accusing its main competitors of copying Moderna’s technology in order to make their own vaccine.

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Moderna said Friday that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine Comirnaty infringes on patents Moderna filed several years ago protecting the technology behind its preventive shot, Spikevax. The company filed patent infringement lawsuits in both U.S. federal court and a German court.

Pfizer spokeswoman Pam Eisele said the company had not fully reviewed Moderna’s lawsuit, but the drugmaker was surprised by it, given that their vaccine is based on proprietary technology developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer.

She said in an email that the company would “vigorously defend” against any allegations in the case.

BioNTech did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Moderna and Pfizer’s two-shot vaccines both use mRNA technology to help patients fight the coronavirus.

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— Associated Press

CBSA says it’s investigating border officer spreading COVID conspiracies online

The Canada Border Services Agency is investigating one of its officers who regularly posts online videos in uniform spreading conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic and offering “advice” on how to skirt border measures.

Since last year, CBSA officer Patrick McNulty has been on a crusade on social media against COVID-19 public health measures, vaccine mandates and now his own employer’s COVID-19 border measures.

Wednesday, CBSA spokeswoman Karine Martel confirmed McNulty still works for the agency but is on leave. She also said he was “under investigation” for his social media posts.

Last year, he went mostly by the nickname “maddad” when posting online or attending anti-public health measures rallies and posting the videos online, though he also often flaunted that he worked for the border services agency.

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Read the full story here.

— Christopher Nardi

‘This is a crisis:’ COVID compounds health-care worker shortages in the North

Health-care facilities across Canada have been grappling with worker shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, but struggles to recruit and retain staff are nothing new in the North.

The Northwest Territories and Nunavut are no strangers to staffing gaps and service disruptions, where many communities have limited resources and are often reliant on visiting staff from Southern Canada.

Dr. Courtney Howard, a longtime emergency physician in Yellowknife who worked her last shift at Stanton Territorial Hospital last month before going on a one-year leave, says the situation has gone from “kind of cheerful strain” to one of real worry doctors won’t be able to meet basic necessary coverage.

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Howard, who is now pursuing a master’s degree in public policy, says doctors who don’t usually work alone in the emergency department helped keep it staffed with remote backup from regular ER doctors.

COVID-19 amplified staffing challenges, with many professionals working extended hours and unable to take vacation time, she said, adding shortages at health centres across the territory put additional strain on the capital’s hospital. Health services have been reduced in 14 communities across the N.W.T., including 10 where only emergency services are available.

— The Canadian Press

Manitobans who flouted COVID-19 restrictions handed fines

Five Manitobans who repeatedly violated pandemic public health orders have been handed fines.

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Provincial court Judge Victoria Cornick said during sentencing that a message must be sent that public health orders are to be respected and tickets did not deter the five after each offence.

Tobias Tissen, Patrick Allard, Todd McDougall, Sharon Vickner and Gerald Bohemier admitted to breaking limits on outdoor public gatherings that were in place over several months in 2020 and 2021.

The Crown had asked for fines of between $18,000 and $42,000, plus costs and surcharges, because the five had organized and spoke at rallies and urged others to not follow health orders.

Defence lawyers had asked for no fines.

The judge imposed lower fines than the Crown sought, ranging from $14,000 to $34,000.

— The Canadian Press

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Djokovic’s scratched U.S. Open bid spotlights maligned COVID vaccine policy

Tennis star Novak Djokovic’s participation in the US Open championships was scuttled by one of just a few remaining COVID-era rules in the country: a vaccination requirement for international travelers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upheld its vaccine policy despite criticism from tennis fans and others who argue that the rules are inconsistent. There’s no vaccine mandate for US players or fans who want to attend the tournament, which starts next week in New York.

The unvaccinated Djokovic confirmed Thursday that he won’t compete in the year’s fourth and final Grand Slam event, saying on Twitter that he’ll “keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again.”

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After Djokovic was booted from Australia ahead of the Australian Open in January, his anti-vaccine stance became a flash-point for the international debate about pandemic-era protocols. The 35-year-old Serbian was permitted to play at Wimbledon in July, where he won his 21st Grand Slam trophy. He was also allowed to play at the French Open, where he lost to eventual tournament champion Rafael Nadal in a four-set quarterfinal.

The CDC earlier this month updated its COVID guidance, scrapping precautions such as isolation after exposure to the virus and test-to-stay at schools.

Djokovic’s situation serves as a reminder of how drastically attitudes about the pandemic have changed over the last year — and how confusing COVID messaging has become in a world that desperately wants to move on from the pandemic.

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In the US, risk mitigation has been left largely up to individuals even as the virus continues to kill hundreds of Americans per day. In a Bloomberg Intelligence-Attest survey conducted at the end July, 61% of US respondents said they would self-isolate for the government-mandated period if they caught Covid-19, with 20% saying they would do only if they were very sick.

— Bloomberg

33 deaths over seven-day period; 331 people in hospital

Hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 has dropped to 331 in B.C., the lowest figure since late June, according to the latest data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Of these, 29 are in critical care.

Hospitalizations are highest in the populous Fraser Health (132) and Vancouver Coastal Health (72) health authorities in the Lower Mainland. Interior Health has 59 patients with the virus, while Vancouver Island has 47 and Northern Health, 17.

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The BCCDC issued its most recent COVID-19 figures for the province in its weekly report on Thursday.

It said there were 180 people admitted to hospital for the week of Aug. 14 to 20, down from 231 the previous week.

The number of reported cases also declined from 878 to 737 this week. This figure is considered a vast undercount, with a report last week by the independent B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Report estimating the true number of COVID cases could be 100-fold higher than what government data shows.

BCCDC data also indicates 33 people died within 30 days of a positive COVID test from Aug. 14 to 20. That is down from 43 the previous week, it said.

The figure for 30-day all-cause mortality, however, is expected to increase as the data becomes more complete, said the agency. The 43 deaths from Aug. 7 to 13 reported this week was reported as 24 deaths last Thursday.

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In total, 4,097 people have died from COVID-19 in B.C. since the start of the pandemic.

— Cheryl Chan

Quebec opens latest COVID vaccination campaign to all adults

While warning the fall could be difficult, Quebec announced Wednesday it’s extending its COVID-19 booster shot campaign to all adults in hopes of increasing immunity before the next wave.

Announced last week, Quebec’s latest mass vaccination campaign opened to people over the age of 60 on Monday.

It was initially supposed to open to all adults next week, but the province has instead decided to make everyone 18 and over eligible right away.

“We’ve seen it over the past two years: Back-to-school is a pivotal time, when COVID-19 is likely to show signs of increasing,” Quebec public health director Dr. Luc Boileau said during a news conference.

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“And that could possibly happen sooner than later.”

Quebec has said it expects a new COVID wave in the fall, with school restarting, employees returning to work after vacations, and people generally spending more time inside.

Read the full story here.

— Postmedia News

Group files constitutional challenge of ArriveCan app in Federal Court

OTTAWA — A constitutional rights group has launched a legal challenge of a federal requirement that travellers to Canada use the ArriveCan app.

The action was filed in Federal Court by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms on behalf of 11 Canadians, including some allegedly fined up to $8,500.

The legal challenge, spearheaded by an organization that has opposed public health measures such as lockdowns and vaccine mandates, seeks to strike down mandatory use of the app and to declare quarantine rules for Canadians who refuse to use the app as unconstitutional.

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The notice of application alleges the federal health minister has failed or refused to provide evidence that ArriveCan’s data collection is legal or secure.

It also claims ArriveCan has proven to be unreliable and prone to errors that have infringed the Charter rights of Canadians.

Federal lawyers have yet to file a statement of defence in the case.

— The Canadian Press

MP says Ottawa underestimated Canadians’ desire to travel again

A member of Parliament says Ottawa may have underestimated Canadians’ desire to travel when planning for a return to normal following the end of most pandemic restrictions.

Airlines and airports have been grappling with a surge in customers this summer, compounded by staffing shortages affecting both carriers and federal agencies.

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As a result, travellers have experienced widespread flight cancellations, baggage delays and lengthy lineups, particularly at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

— The Canadian Press

Germany tightens COVID rules for travel during fall, winter

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Cabinet approved legislation Wednesday that ensures basic protective measures against the coronavirus pandemic are continued during the fall and winter when more virus cases are expected.

The presentation of the rules — which also include the new obligation to wear N95-type face masks during all long-distance travel by train and bus as well as on planes — coincided with the publication of photos showing the chancellor and German Economy Minister Robert Habeck flying to Canada earlier this week without wearing masks.

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The pictures triggered strong public criticism of an alleged double standard for politicians and regular people. Currently, medical face masks are mandatory on planes and public transport though N95-style masks are recommended.

— Reuters

Pfizer’s COVID vaccine 73.2% effective in kids under 5, new data shows

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s vaccine was 73.2% effective in preventing COVID-19 among children aged 6 months through 4 years, new data from the companies showed on Tuesday, two months after the U.S. rollout of the shots began for that age group.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized for children under 5 years of age in June, based on data that showed the vaccine generated a similar immune response as in older age groups.

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An early analysis based on 10 symptomatic COVID-19 cases in the study had suggested a vaccine efficacy of 80.3%. But experts had warned that the data was preliminary due to a low number of symptomatic cases.

— Reuters

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.

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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 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.

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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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