Canada: COVID updates, March 18: Tam urges Canadians to keep wearing masks even after mandates lifted

Tam says the federal government is 'examining' all vaccine mandates

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A man wears a face mask as he cycles by a mural defaced by graffiti objecting to mask usage, in Montreal, Sunday, Aug 30, 2020. © Provided by The Gazette A man wears a face mask as he cycles by a mural defaced by graffiti objecting to mask usage, in Montreal, Sunday, Aug 30, 2020.

Updated throughout the day on Friday, March 18. Questions/comments: [email protected]

Top updates

  • Charest says leaders must listen to health experts on lifting federal COVID mandates
  • Austria reimposes some coronavirus measures – including mandatory masks – to curb record cases
  • Bump in COVID-19 cases ‘not unexpected’ as public health measures lifted, Tam says
  • Public health director urges Montrealers to remain united as restrictions lifted
  • The Great Resignation isn’t over yet: Workers say they’ll quit if they don’t get the flexibility they want
  • Federal committee recommends kids get Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, calls Moderna suitable alternative
  • Tam urges Canadians to keep wearing masks even after mandates lifted
  • Quebec reports 13 new deaths as ICU cases fall
  • Province urges Montrealers to ‘get back into public transit’
  • Quebec tourism industry gears up for busy summer as cross-border testing requirements ease
  • Airline industry happy to see end of COVID testing requirements for Canadians
  • Ontario rejects board’s request for more time in lifting mask rules in schools
  • St. Patrick’s Day brings smiling Montreal bar patrons out in droves
  • Moderna seeks FDA authorization for second COVID booster for all adults
  • People aren’t sure what to wear to the office anymore after two years of working in yoga pants
  • Two years in, no moving on from COVID-19 for Canada’s exhausted health workers
  • Quebec COVID guide: Vaccinations, vaccine passports, testing
  • Sign up for our free nightly coronavirus newsletter
4 p.m.

Thanks for reading

I’ll be away from Monday to Wednesday next week but one of my colleagues will be here live blogging.

Canada’s top doctors still recommend wearing a mask — even as provinces ditch mandates

  Canada’s top doctors still recommend wearing a mask — even as provinces ditch mandates Despite provinces increasingly dropping their COVID-19 mask requirements, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Friday that wearing a mask is still a very good idea. She recommended that Canadians "continue wearing a well-constructed, well-fitting mask as an important added layer of protection, even if not required by local authorities." Your browser does not support this video "We're in a period of uncertainty where the the virus is still undergoing evolution," Tam said. "So getting vaccines plus wearing a mask is still a really good idea.

In the meantime, you can follow all our coverage via the coronavirus page.

My previous COVID-19 live blogs are available here .

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Read our full story.

2:40 p.m.

Charest says leaders must listen to health experts on lifting federal COVID mandates

Jean Charest says when it comes to lifting federal COVID-19 mandates, leaders should listen to health experts and not replace that advice with their own judgment, The Canadian Press reports.

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Federal Conservatives and their supporters have long been calling for the removal of vaccine mandates for domestic air travellers, public servants and those working in federally regulated industries.

Tory MPs say rapid testing should be allowed for those who choose to be unvaccinated. They have dismissed the mandates, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before last summer’s federal election, as driving division in the country and threatening people’s livelihoods.

Recently, Conservatives have pointed to provinces’ choices to drop their vaccine-passport rules along with remaining health restrictions, following the Omicron-driven wave of the pandemic when infections soared.

Charest, however, said decisions about the federal mandates that remain in place should be made according to the advice of health professionals.

“That’s why they’re there,” the Conservative leadership candidate said in a wide-ranging interview on Thursday with The Canadian Press.

Conservatives again demand an end to all federal COVID-19 restrictions

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“We shouldn’t try to substitute our judgment to it. There is always an element of political judgment.”

Charest tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

He said he believes Canadians are lacking guidance on what to expect in the months ahead and they deserve to know more so they can plan their lives.

2:05 p.m.

Austria reimposes some coronavirus measures – including masks – to curb record cases

On March 5, just under two weeks ago, Austria cancelled almost all pandemic restrictions, though people were still required to wear masks in some places.

ABC News reported mask requirements would remain in place “where it is absolutely necessary to protect vulnerable groups,” including in public transport, essential shops and pharmacies.

Today, Austria reimposed some measures, the Bloomberg news agency reports:

Austria will broaden mandatory mask-wearing and shorten the quarantine for health care workers to curb record coronavirus infections and ensure hospitals continue to function.

The government is stepping back from a decision to remove most restrictions after daily infections reached record highs and modelling points to elevated case counts for the next two weeks.

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Speaking to reporters on Friday, Johannes Rauch, appointed this month as Austria’s health minister, said intensive-care unit occupancy remained low, but that hospitals were struggling to care for all patients due to the number of doctors and nurses becoming infected.

Austria has registered an average of more than 3,500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past seven days. Last week, the government said it was suspending a law that made vaccinations mandatory.

  COVID updates, March 18: Tam urges Canadians to keep wearing masks even after mandates lifted   COVID updates, March 18: Tam urges Canadians to keep wearing masks even after mandates lifted

2 p.m.

Bump in COVID-19 cases ‘not unexpected’ as public health measures lifted, Tam says

Following up on my earlier live coverage, here’s a full story, from The Canadian Press:

Canada’s top public health officials have suggested the country is unlikely to be caught up in the new wave of COVID-19 cases around the world, but could instead see a “blip” this spring.

Dr. Theresa Tam expects a rise in cases of COVID-19 as public health measures are lifted in Canada, but says severe outcomes in the country should be manageable.

“Hospitalizations could certainly come up when cases go up. However, it is expected that increase in hospitalization would be less than what we just saw,” said Tam, referencing the massive Omicron wave Canada is only now riding out.

The Omicron wave of COVID-19 led to a new round of public health restrictions and school closures as hospitals were once again stressed to their limit to accommodate the huge number of cases coming through their doors.

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Since the peak in January, cases have been declining steadily and have since levelled off, with approximately 5,000 cases reported daily, and the number of people in hospital have begun to dwindle.

The daily average number of people in hospital with COVID-19 declined by 11 per cent since last week, and the number of people in intensive care declined by 14 per cent.

But even as Canada’s situation has stabilized, worrying trends have begun to emerge elsewhere in the world.

The World Health Organization warned Tuesday that several regions have seen increases in cases in the Western Pacific, Africa and Europe.

While deaths attributed to the virus are declining around the world, the Western Pacific region has seen a 12 per cent increase in people killed by COVID-19 in the last week.

The renewed spread of COVID-19 abroad has been partially blamed on BA.2, a sublineage of the Omicron variant that has been dubbed “stealth Omicron.”

Tam said the international data suggests BA.2 seeks out and targets people with poor immunity, including unvaccinated people without prior exposure to the Omicron variant.

That’s why Canada may be in better stead, with an 85 per cent rate of fully vaccinated eligible people, to prevent hospitalizations “even if there’s a spring blip” in cases, Tam said.

So far BA.2 is spreading relatively slowly in Canada, and accounted for about 22 per cent of cases as of Feb. 20. It doesn’t appear to cause more severe illness than other variants, Tam said.

Canada is moving away from fixating on case counts in general, as it enters a “transition phase” of the pandemic, she said.

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While public health will continue to watch for geographically representative trends around the country and around the world, Tam said it will be keeping a much closer eye on hospitalizations and severe cases.

Tam said the best way to prevent those outcomes is for as many people as possible to get a full slate of vaccines, including a booster.

Currently, only about 56 per cent of adults over the age of 18 have received a booster shot, according to the federal public health agency. Tam said there is a particular gap among people in their 50s.

“That would, I think, still be very relevant given the potential for an uptick as the public health measures are eased,” Tam said.

Public health will be closely watching booster rates as the fall approaches, but generally, provinces are moving away from vaccine mandates as a way to incentivize people to get their next shot, she said.

“We want Canadians to want to get it because it makes sense,” she said.

1:45 p.m.

Public health director urges Montrealers to remain united as restrictions lifted

1:15 p.m.

The Great Resignation isn’t over yet: Workers say they’ll quit if they don’t get the flexibility they want

Two years into the pandemic, people have a new perspective on what’s most important — and work no longer takes top billing

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1:15 p.m.

Federal committee recommends kids get Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, calls Moderna suitable alternative

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has released new guidelines that favour giving kids a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine over the newly approved Moderna version.

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Noon

Tam urges Canadians to keep wearing masks even after mandates lifted

As Quebec and other provinces prepare to lift mask mandates, federal public health officials are continuing to stress the benefits of face coverings.

At a federal pandemic update today, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, told reporters: “For me it’s clear, it’s a good idea to wear a mask when you enter public spaces with other people.”

When it comes to transportation and workplaces, “any layer of protection to… protect each other is a good idea, whether they are mandated or not,” she added.

“From a public health perspective, we’re recommending what I would call vaccine-plus-other-layers for now, because we’re in a period of uncertainty where the virus is still undergoing evolution so getting up to date with vaccines plus wearing a mask is still a very good idea.

“Just do that for now, especially if you’re at high risk.”

Restrictions are being loosened across Canada at a time when some other countries, including in Europe, are facing rising case counts.

Tam said Canadians should “keep the layer of masking as much as possible. Yes, it is a personal decision at this point where mandates are being removed, which is a difficult period of adjustment. But I would say, given the possibility of the uptick in cases (in Canada), it’s prudent to just wear a mask for now.”

Responding to a question, Dr. Howard Njoo, the country’s deputy chief public health officer, said “wearing a mask is (an) individual protection measure that is very important and proven. And even if there isn’t a mandate or a requirement, I think it’s still a good idea, certainly in some contexts.”

Njoo said: “If you’re in a plane, for example, it’s a closed space, we’re in there for a period of time with other passengers in close contact. I think even if there’s no mandate it’s a good idea to continue to wear a mask for individual protection.”

He said “the message is simple: for the moment, it’s a good idea because the science hasn’t changed… It’s a little like cigarette smoke – it can stay in the environment – and that’s why we underline the importance of wearing masks and (good) ventilation indoors.”

Watch the press conference:

11:30 a.m.

Chart: Current situation vs. one year ago

11:30 a.m.

Charts: Quebec cases, deaths

11:30 a.m.

Charts: Quebec’s vaccination campaign

11:05 a.m.

Quebec reports 13 new deaths as ICU cases fall

Quebec has recorded 1,170 new cases of COVID-19, the provincial government announced this morning.

The case tally only includes people who received PCR tests at government screening clinics. It does not accurately reflect the number of cases since it does not include the results of home rapid tests.

In addition, 13 new deaths were reported, bringing the cumulative total to 14,245.

Some other key statistics from Quebec’s latest COVID-19 update:

  • Montreal Island: 221 cases, 1 death.
  • Net decrease in hospitalizations: 13, for total of 1,021 (76 entered hospital, 89 discharged).
  • Net decrease in intensive care patients: 5, for total of 45 (3 entered ICUs, 8 discharged).
  • 15,461 PCR tests conducted Wednesday.
  • 6,623 vaccine doses administered over previous 24 hours.
10:30 a.m.

Aislin

 Editorial cartoon for Saturday, March 19, 2022. © Aislin Editorial cartoon for Saturday, March 19, 2022.
10:25 a.m.

Quebec urges Montrealers to ‘get back into public transit’

  COVID updates, March 18: Tam urges Canadians to keep wearing masks even after mandates lifted

“Get back into public transit.”

That’s the tagline of a new Quebec government awareness campaign to encourage people to take the bus and métro after the pandemic left many relying on cars to get around.

“Public transit is the most sustainable solution to traffic congestion and it remains safe,” Chantal Rouleau, the minister responsible for the Montreal region, said in a statement.

“As workers gradually return to downtown Montreal towers, I call for a return to good commuting habits.”

By mid-April, public transit will be the last public space where masks are still mandatory in Quebec. The provincial government has said it won’t lift transit mask requirements until at least May.

At the Société de transport de Montréal, bus and métro ridership dove by 80 per cent in the early days of the pandemic, but it has recovered steadily since that time.

By mid-December, ridership was back up to about 60 per cent, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Quebec’s pro-transit publicity campaign is to be deployed over the next few weeks online and in TV and radio ads.

The campaign’s website touts transit’s environmental, economic and health benefits.

From the site:

More public transit, less…

  • Air and noise pollution
  • Traffic congestion and accidents
  • Stress
  • Sedentary lifestyle habits
  • Unforeseen expenses

More public transit, more…

  • Jobs
  • Time for yourself
  • Savings
  • Peace of mind
  • Productivity
10 a.m.

Quebec tourism industry gears up for busy summer as cross-border testing requirements ease

Tourism-related businesses across Quebec are gearing up for a busy summer after the federal government disclosed plans to scrap COVID-19 testing requirements for visitors as infection numbers decline.

As of April 1, Canada will no longer require fully vaccinated travellers to show a negative COVID-19 test when they arrive by air, land or water.

Read our full story, by Frédéric Tomesco.

10 a.m.

Airline industry happy to see end of COVID testing requirements for Canadians

Airlines welcomed the federal government’s decision to ease testing requirements for vaccinated travellers.

Suzanne Acton-Gervais, interim president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, said it will allow them to get back to more normal business.

Read our full story.

9:45 a.m.

Ontario rejects board’s request for more time in lifting mask rules in schools

Ontario’s largest school board says the province has rejected its request for more time in lifting mask mandates and other remaining COVID-19 public health measures, The Canadian Press reports.

Masking rules are set to come to an end in most settings on Monday, but the Toronto District School Board had asked for an extension to gradually ease out of masking as students return from March Break.

The board had cited concerns over low vaccination rates among children five to 11 years old, and the risk to immunocompromised students and staff, in making the request.

The TDSB says the province’s top doctor, along with the Ministry of Education, responded Thursday and “reiterated their previous direction” on lifting mask mandates.

The board says masking will nonetheless be “strongly encouraged in TDSB schools, though not required” starting next week.

It says masks will still be available to both staff and students on request, and “classroom environments will be inclusive of all students.”

“We recognize that adapting to this new reality will take time and that not everyone will have the same level of comfort as measures are lifted. It is OK to be anxious about the coming weeks and it is also OK to be excited and hopeful,” the board said in a statement.

“Please do what makes you feel comfortable during this time and please respect the individual choices that other people make.”

9:30 a.m.

St. Patrick’s Day brings smiling Montreal bar patrons out in droves

Bars are back at full capacity just in time for Montreal St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

Read our full story, by Bill Brownstein.

  COVID updates, March 18: Tam urges Canadians to keep wearing masks even after mandates lifted
9:30 a.m.

Moderna seeks FDA authorization for second COVID booster for all adults

Moderna Inc. on late Thursday sought emergency use authorization from U.S. health regulators for a second COVID-19 booster shot, as a surge in cases in some parts of the world fuels fears of another wave of the pandemic.

Read our full story.

9:30 a.m.

People aren’t sure what to wear to the office anymore after two years of working in yoga pants

If you were about to head off to your first in-person business conference in two years, what would you want to know?

Would you check to see if everyone had to be fully vaccinated? Or COVID tested on the day? Would you ask if the war in Ukraine had affected the agenda?

It turns out people getting ready to take part in a three-day climate conference in London I went to last week had one more question in mind: what should I wear?

Read our full story.

9:30 a.m.

Two years in, no moving on from COVID-19 for Canada’s exhausted health-care workers

With mask mandates and other COVID-19 health restrictions lifting, many Canadians are finally able to envision a return to normal life. But, as they face burnout, staff shortages and daunting procedural backlogs, some health workers say it isn’t so easy to move on.

Read our full story.

9:15 a.m.

Quebec COVID guide: Vaccinations, testing, restrictions

Vaccinations

  • You can book appointments via the Clic Santé website or by phone at 1-877-644-4545.
  • The government has posted information about first doses, second doses and third doses (booster shots).
  • We have put together a guide to getting vaccinated in Quebec, including the age groups targeted, how to book appointments, and addresses of vaccination centres.

Testing

  • Quebec now limits access to PCR tests at government screening centres to specific priority groups, such as health workers in direct contact with the public, Indigenous communities and the homeless.
  • The province is distributing free home rapid tests via pharmacies.
  • Quebec has published a guide explaining when and how to use rapid tests, as well as a flowchart outlining what to do when you have results.
8:30 a.m.

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