Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine could be ready early 2021
You have probably heard about the COVID-19 vaccine that could be 90 percent effective from Pfizer and BioNTech, currently undergoing late-stage trials. If the vaccine is approved for widespread use, rollout is likely to occur in three stages: healthcare and front-line workers first, in early 2021; seniors and vulnerable populations in mid 2021; and the general public around fall of 2021.
The long wait for the mass population to get a potential vaccine isn't the only hurdle. The vaccine in its current form needs to be stored at an incredibly low temperature, and recipients need to get the injection twice for it to be effective. These challenges combine to make widespread adoption of the vaccine a dicey prospect.
Still, this vaccine is likely to be one of the fastest ever developed, and the pressure is on for companies like Pfizer, BioNTech, and others, to produce a stable, effective vaccine so we can end quarantines in Canada and around the world.
In other news, as the weather turns cold, many parts of Canada are seeing record spikes in new coronavirus cases, meaning many places have strengthened restrictions once again. Keep an eye on your local news for the latest info on public closures, and as always, be sure to wash your hands, observe physical distancing, and wear a mask.
Update: Provinces continue to ease restrictions
Thanks to a continuing decline in COVID-19 cases across much of the country, many provinces are experimenting with reopening shops, leisure activities — and even schools.
British Columbia, for example, is allowing students to return to primary and secondary school. Not full-time, to start, though the province expects to return to full-time school in September.
Many of the cases in Canada stem from long-term care homes, and efforts are underway to help these vulnerable citizens. Many victims of the disease are healthcare and personal services workers employed in care homes. Most cases are concentrated in just a few provinces, too. Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta are the worst affected, while much of the Atlantic and the North have seen relatively few cases.
Even the National Basketball Association (NBA), one of the first major sports leagues to shut down due to the virus, is looking at restarting the season — with testing and tracing measures, and without spectators. Other leagues around the world, like the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), have been playing games for weeks without major incident.
In Germany, a country that responded fast to the crisis, lockdowns have eased. Nightclubs have transformed into beer gardens, with masks and physical distancing, but relaxing together on a patio all the same!
Sweden, in contrast, didn't institute a severe lockdown and instead pursued a strategy of "herd immunity." Unfortunately, this seems to have backfired: Sweden has one of the highest mortality rates in the world for COVID-19. This suggests that quarantines and lockdowns save lives — but there are safe ways forward if we continue to pull together.
Clearly, there's lots of good news from across Canada and around the world, but we're not out of the woods yet. It's crucial that we continue to listen to public health advice, observe physical distancing measures, wear masks, and wash our hands frequently. When will the quarantine end in Canada? The answer isn't entirely clear just yet, but we're getting closer every day.
Some restrictions lifting in provinces across Canada
Manitoba has begun lifting restrictions, allowing visits to museums, hair salons, and even restaurants, though with reduced seating.
Quebec, the hardest-hit province in Canada, has reopened schools, and is reopening retail stores, outside Montreal. The Montreal area is set to follow May 11, pending public health advice.
New Brunswick is the biggest success story in Canada so far. It's been over two weeks since a coronavirus case has been reported. The province has plans to improve distance learning during the pandemic as lockdowns continue.
On April 27, Ontario released a three-stage framework for reopening over the coming weeks. Each stage is expected to take two to four weeks, and is contingent upon a consistent drop in new COVID-19 cases and new hospitalizations. Ontario will keep schools closed until at least May 29. The proposed reopening will look like this:
- Stage 1: Some small gatherings permitted, certain workplaces opened
- Stage 2: Some larger gatherings permitted, more workplaces and public spaces opened
- Stage 3: Relax restrictions on public gatherings and "responsibly" open all workplaces
Saskatchewan has begun its five-phase plan to reopen the province as of May 4th. The province has started with medical services, including dentistry and optometry, and will move on to personal services such as hairdressers and massage therapists. Presuming all goes well, restaurants will follow, at 50% capacity, and more beyond. Of course, provincial health authorities will be watching case counts carefully.
For more good news, New Brunswick has not seen a new case since April 17th. Social and physical distancing appears to be working, which is a great sign for the country as a whole.
Global cases of coronavirus have risen over the 3 million mark, according to Johns Hopkins University. Canada's confirmed total is just over 47,000 as of April 27.
Are you getting tired of social and physical distancing? You're not alone! Most of us are ready for the quarantine to end and the world to return to normal — or as close to normal as possible. Unfortunately, no one is sure when that will happen.
Still, there are some good signs, even from some of the world's hardest-hit regions.
New Zealand comes close to eradicating the virus
New Zealand enacted some of the strongest lockdown measures in the world at the end of March — and those efforts seem now to be paying off. New Zealand has the lowest confirmed case ratio to population of any country in the world, and almost all those who were infected have recovered. The country is easing towards reopening, though borders will remain closed to international travellers. Elementary and middle schools will begin to reopen, though any who can continue online learning are urged to do so.
Austria reopening thousands of shops
Austria has begun stabilizing the number of new infections, and accordingly, has started to relax its strict quarantine measures. After a month of lockdown, small businesses are beginning to reopen.
Plans to open larger businesses and malls are set for May 1st. Social distancing measures are still in place, and masks are mandatory for shoppers, but Austria's making great strides on reopening its economy.
Spain reopening factories and construction sites
Spain has seen one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in the world, but still, some workers are returning to the job this week. Factories and construction sites are set to reopen in an attempt to restart the country's manufacturing sector.
Retail shops will remain closed until at least April 26th, and those who can do so are still being urged to work from home. Still, this is good news for the stricken nation, though experts will be watching the number of new infections closely.
Italy reopens some retail shops
Italy is another country that has been particularly battered by the coronavirus. Even so, certain retailers, including bookstores and baby clothing shops, are open on a trial basis, despite the official national lockdown reaching until May 4th.
The worst-affected regions in northern Italy are forgoing this experiment, but in general, the downward trend of new infections has prompted officials to allow a slow reopening. Safety measures, including masks and social distancing practices, are still in place.
Denmark reopening primary schools
Some of the best news yet is coming out of Denmark, where the government is set to reopen daycare centres and primary schools for children from grades one through five. Denmark hasn't been as badly hit as many other countries, and has made great strides in flattening its curve.
So what of Canada?
Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said the country is still weeks away from reopening its economy. Working with provinces and territories, rebooting life as we know it will likely happen in phases.
Because each province is at a different place on the infection curve, the federal government has committed to a coordinated easing of restrictions as the rate of new infections falls.
Trudeau reiterated the importance of an eventual vaccine, saying a true return to normalcy will be impossible until a vaccine is developed, tested, and deployed. So, when will social distancing end in Canada? Not for several weeks yet at least — some estimates suggest June could see an easing of restrictions.
Still, workers in some fields are more vulnerable than others, so in the coming weeks, it's likely we'll see a gradual, calculated reopening of non-essential shops and services across the country.
Canadian employers' status
Unfortunately, many Canadian employers are planning for reduced summer student employment due to the ongoing lockdown. While many are making plans to offer remote working positions to interns and student workers, others cannot do so, and must wait until quarantine measures are lifted.
Canadian colleges and universities
Much uncertainty remains around the eventual reopening of colleges and universities in Canada. School administrators are working to prepare for the September semester, while keeping open the possibilty that on-campus teaching may not start up again until January.
The sad truth is we just don't know yet. Social and physical distancing measures are helping to slow down the rate of new infections — flattening the curve — so if we all continue to do our part and, as Trudeau says, "stay the course," we'll get to the finish line of this pandemic sooner.
WHO guidance soon to come
The World Health Organization has said it will soon release a six step guide for countries looking to relax restrictions and reopen their economies.
Watch this space for more information as it becomes available. When will the pandemic be over in Canada? Not soon enough!
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