Federal vote can be safe despite COVID-19, but parties must avoid ‘nightmare scenario,’ experts say
Canadians are expected to head to the polls on Sept. 20 in a federal vote that could be overshadowed by a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reports indicating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning to visit Rideau Hall on Sunday to ask that Parliament be dissolved ahead of a vote dropped not long before Canada’s Chief Public Officer Health Officer Theresa Tam said a fourth wave was underway in the country, with “early signs of increase in severe illnesses.”
Traditionally, elections have made use of local schools as polling stations given their proximity to communities. With the more transmissible delta variant dominant in the fourth wave, the agency says it has consulted with provincial and territorial health authorities who have reviewed its health and safety plans and polling station guidelines. Elections Canada told CBC News they will work with school boards, principals and administrators to ensure voters remain separate from students and staff.
Fahad Razak, an internal medicine physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, says it will involve case-by-case decisions that depend on location, riding, and public health restrictions in the particular community.
“You want to stretch out the voting period to minimize the density of people coming in and out on any one day or time,” Razak said of one good mitigation strategy.
While there are legitimate concerns, Canada is far from the first country to hold an election during the pandemic. The list includes developed nations such as the U.S. and Israel, countries that have suffered a far more devastating COVID-19 toll like Peru, and nations that have needed help combating COVID-19 from the World Bank and the COVAX vaccine initiative such as Zambia, which is still tabulating the results from its election this week.
There have been analyses suggesting that in-person voting in the U.S. last November did cause some virus spread, though that election took place before vaccines became widely available.
Still, Tam said mail-in voting might be a good option if local conditions are concerning and that as far as campaigning, “the size of the gathering does matter and how you can control the crowd in terms of their behaviour might come into play.” Being vaccinated while masking up and maintaining distance is advisable in such situations, she said.
From The National
Federal government to require vaccinations for all federal public servants, air and train passengers
Canada has seen two big vaccine mandate developments within the past 24 hours.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Friday that the federal government will soon require that all public servants be vaccinated.
In addition, he said all commercial air travellers and passengers on interprovincial trains and large marine vessels with overnight accommodations — such as cruise ships — will have to be vaccinated.
The government says it also “expects” that other employers in federally regulated sectors — like banking, broadcasting and telecommunication — will require vaccination for their employees. Alghabra said the government will work expeditiously with public service unions and employers to get the mandate in place “by the end of October,” if not sooner.
There are more than 300,000 federal public servants and hundreds of thousands more people working in industries that fall under the federal labour code.
On Thursday, British Columbia became the first province to mandate vaccines for those working in long-term care and assisted living facilities.
“We have seen transmission from unvaccinated staff, and it has reinforced the need for protection,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said. “We have now seen with the transmission of the new variants that we need extra protection in this highly risky situation.”
Those affected will have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 12.
The CUPE Hospital Employees Union, which represents many workers in the province, says it has encouraged members to get vaccinated, but after Thursday’s announcement, it warned about unintended consequences.
“In a recent poll of HEU members, 24 per cent said they were likely to leave health care over the next two years as a result of their experiences during the pandemic,” the union said. “So while many health-care workers will support this measure, it will be controversial and it may push some to leave their jobs altogether.”
Why the delta variant is hitting kids hard in the U.S., and how we can prevent that in Canada
Canadians are regularly exposed to plenty of American news, but anxious parents of schoolchildren might want to keep some factors in mind as more stories involving sick kids in the U.S. have been reported this month.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 27.3 per cent rise in the seven-day average for U.S. COVID-19 hospital admissions among children 17 and under between the week of July 28 to Aug. 3 and the week of Aug. 4 to Aug. 10. The increase has been spurred by the delta variant of the coronavirus, believed to be the most transmissible variant yet.
A big reason for this has been the “abysmal vaccination rates” in COVID-19 hotspots in the U.S., according to Dr. David Kimberlin of the Children’s Hospital of Alabama and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“You put a highly, even much more infectious — hyper-infectious, hyper-transmissible — virus that this delta variant represents into a population that’s … a third vaccinated, you got a recipe for disaster,” he said. “We’re living that disaster right now.”
Many of the stories involving kids and COVID-19 are playing out in southeastern states which have vaccinated between just 36 and 45 per cent of their populations. In contrast, most Canadian provinces are above 60 per cent in that metric.
That stronger bubble of protection could help explain why SickKids in Toronto told CBC News it isn’t seeing a surge in pediatric cases and hospitalizations, a sentiment also expressed by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health at a Friday news conference.
“Having the adults around them protected by vaccination will help protect kids who are too young to be vaccinated,” said Laura Sauvé, chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s infectious diseases committee and an infectious disease specialist at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Generally speaking, the United Kingdom — which has a comparable vaccine uptake to Canada — hasn’t seen the number of child hospitalizations as the U.S., even though most British kids under 15 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
Even in the U.S. with its concerning pediatric incidents, experts say it isn’t clear that delta is more damaging to kids than earlier variants when they get infected.
“We are not seeing this in a definitive way,” U.S. diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a briefing on Thursday.
Sauvé says it’s critical to keep up other public health measures in Canada, such as wearing masks indoors. But of the six most populous Canadian provinces, at this point only Ontario has said that masks will be mandatory for schoolchildren.
World roundup: Discord in Thailand, booster shot program expanded in Israel
In Africa, South Africa’s health minister said on Friday he would not recommend a relaxation of COVID-19 lockdown measures despite a downward trend in infections, saying the situation “remains precarious.”
He said the country of 60 million had fully vaccinated only around four million people as a wave of infections driven by the more infectious delta variant strains over-burdened hospitals and health workers.
In Asia, police in Thailand’s capital fired rubber bullets and tear gas on Friday to stop hundreds of protesters attempting to march to the prime minister’s residence to demand he resign over his handling of the country’s coronavirus crisis.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at Bangkok’s Victory Monument, where they burned a large pile of spoiled fruit to symbolize the economic costs of what they called the failure of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government to properly control the outbreak. Thailand reported a record 23,418 new COVID-19 cases on Friday.
In the Middle East, Israeli Health Ministry experts recommended on Thursday dropping the minimum age of eligibility for a COVID-19 vaccine booster from 60 to 50. Israelis aged 60 and up began receiving the booster two weeks ago, and more than 700,000 seniors have received third shots. Israel is pushing ahead despite a World Health Organization plea for developed nations to hold off on booster shots for several weeks until more countries can improve their low percentages of first-shot vaccination.
The U.S. is also prepared to move on booster shots for a segment of their population. The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday authorized a booster dose of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna for people with compromised immune systems.
While the vulnerable group makes up less than three per cent of U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control, that translates to 10 million people, about one-third of Canada’s entire eligible vaccine population.
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