Today’s coronavirus news: Manitoba students call on schools to retain COVID measures; How ‘stealth Omicron’ is spreading in Ontario

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Thursday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

7 am: Last year, for the first time in history, economic growth in Quebec outpaced every other province — and in the middle of a pandemic, too, writes star columnist David Olive. With GDP growth of more than six per cent in 2021, Quebec is expected to have posted a pandemic economic recovery more powerful than that of the US and the European Union (EU), as well as its Canadian peers.

Those numbers become official in coming weeks. But Quebec’s strong performance in the first three quarters of 2021 alone ensures it the crown.

“The strength of Quebec’s economic rebound from COVID-19 has been nothing short of remarkable,” said Marc Desomeaux, senior economist at Scotiabank Economics.

The question now is whether Quebec’s status as an economic outperformer is sustainable. Or will Quebec slip back into its tradition of lagging other provinces in GDP growth.

Full column here from David Olive: How Quebec became Canada’s economic powerhouse in the middle of a pandemic

6 am: As a patient takes their last breath in a silent hospital room, Dr. Warren Lewin thinks to himself, “I really hope we did our best.”

Palliative care doctors like Lewin have spent the pandemic desperately trying to manage patients’ symptoms, control their pain and ensure their end-of-life wishes are met from a medical standpoint.

But even as the worst of COVID-19’s highly infectious Omicron wave appears to be over, critically ill COVID patients continue to fill hospital beds. And two years after the pandemic first emerged in Canada, palliative care doctors are exhausted but holding steadfast.

The Star spoke to three palliative care doctors about their experiences caring for the sickest of patients as the pandemic enters its third year. With restrictions lifting in Ontario, the proof-of-vaccination system set to be eliminated on March 1, and the province mulling an end to indoor mask mandates, Premier Doug Ford said “everyone’s done with this” and ready for things to get back to normal. But because hospitalization and death rates lag behind daily COVID case counts, hospitals are still facing the pandemic head-on.

Those who work in palliative care fear the changes could leave the vulnerable behind.

Full story here from Bailey Martens: Doctors who care for the dying face additional challenges amid the pandemic

5:40 a.m.: A new student-founded campaign is calling on Manitoba officials to retain some public health restrictions until COVID-19 becomes endemic.

As far as Grade 12 student Drayton Kejick-Fair is concerned, “Now is not the time for forced normalcy.”

“I’m not a big activist or advocate, but when the government does something that potentially puts the people around you and the people that you love in danger, you have to do something about it,” Drayton said.

The 17-year-old is organizing a protest at the Manitoba Legislative Building at noon on Saturday to make known his concerns about the imminent loosening of restrictions.

5:21 a.m.: Hong Kong fell to second last among the 53 places scored in Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking in February, marking a rapid decline over the past few months.

The financial hub has dropped to the lowest position ever occupied by a developed economy in the 16 editions of the measure, which tracks the best and worst places to be in the pandemic. After flying as high as ninth a year ago, in January 2021, Hong Kong’s worst ever outbreak is crippling its pursuit of COVID Zero and paralyzing the once-vibrant economy.

5 am: The heightened infectiousness of a subvariant of the coronavirus — that’s BA.2, nicknamed “stealth Omicron” — means it could be on its way to overtaking BA.1 as the most dominant form of Omicron in Ontario. But early evidence suggests it causes no more serious outcomes than the original version, leaving experts expressing cautious optimism.

But they warn that with the lifting of COVID-19 public health restrictions next week, there are many unknowns about what is in store for Ontario in the coming months.

“Currently everything looks great. Cases are dropping, hospitalizations are dropping, ICUs are being decompressed, deaths are going down, and by and large in most provinces the wastewater signals are in decline,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at University Health Network. “On the other hand, it’s still winter. There are still a lot of people congregating in indoor settings where there will be opportunities for the virus to transmit. Plus, we’ve got the lifting of many public health measures. Plus, we’ve got BA.2.”

I have added that these factors could mean a slowing in the decline of cases, a plateau or even a bump in numbers.

“I think we should just acknowledge there is uncertainty in the road that lies ahead.”

Read the full story here from Kenyon Wallace and May Warren

Thursday 5:36 a.m.: Vaccines and boosters proved highly effective against serious illness from the Omicron variant of COVID-19. What is also clear is that the defense afforded by vaccines — while still robust — tends to wane over time, leaving even some vaccinated and boosted individuals more vulnerable than others.

Data released earlier this month by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined people who got a booster shot of a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine after completing a two-dose primary vaccination series.

During a time when omicron was the dominant coronavirus variant, vaccine effectiveness against COVID-related emergency department or urgent care visits for people was 87% during the two months after the booster shot, but that fell to 81% during the third month and dropped to 66% for the fourth month after the booster.

“I think that’s kind of a word of caution,” said Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at UC San Francisco.

A subsequent booster would seemingly help address the issue of waning immunity. But not everyone is convinced a second booster will be needed anytime soon.

Read Wednesday’s coronavirus news.


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