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COVID-19 update for Sept. 28: B.C. health officials urge both flu, COVID shots | Judge upholds B.C. employer's mandatory vaccination policy | Medical professionals reiterate that virus is still a threat

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

Here's your daily update with everything you need to know on the coronavirus situation in B.C. and around the world.
Here's your daily update with everything you need to know on the coronavirus situation in B.C. and around the world. Photo by iStock/Getty Images Plus

Here’s your update with everything you need to know on the COVID-19 situation in B.C. and around the world for Sept. 28, 2022.

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.

Start your day with a roundup of B.C.-focused news and opinion delivered straight to your inbox at 7 a.m., Monday to Friday.

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Here are the latest weekly B.C. figures given on Sept. 22 for the week of Sept. 11-17:

• Hospitalized cases: 305
• Intensive care: 22
• New cases: 637 over seven days ending Sept. 17
• Total number of confirmed cases: 384,266
• Total deaths over seven days ending Sept. 17: 22 (total 4,253)

Read the full report here | Next update: Sept. 29

Headlines at a glance

• Health officials in B.C. are urging the public to get flu shots and COVID boosters this fall
• A judge has upheld a B.C. employer’s mandatory COVID vaccination policy
• More than 1.6 million travellers arrived in Canada without using ArriveCAN
• Employers struggling to find workers in B.C.’s pandemic recovery economy
• Meantime, some workers are worried about COVID safety as they return to office
• The federal government will lift border vaccine mandates, mandatory masks on planes and trains on Oct. 1
• Prominent Chinese commentator is urging COVID experts in that country to speak out
• Ontario is now offering bivalent Omicron-targeted vaccine bookings to all adults
• Research shows HIV spike among B.C. drug users associated with COVID-19 lockdown

LATEST NEWS

Health officials say while B.C. is emerging from the pandemic, a moderate surge in cases is possible this fall and winter.

The good news is that most of the population has accrued some immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from vaccination or infection, health officials said at a news conference Wednesday.

However, that strong immunity will wane over time and so health officials are urging British Columbians to get a booster shot that protects against the Omicron variant.

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are significantly down from a peak in January, according to B.C. government data. There was a slight surge in May and then there has been a steady decline.

Read the full story here.

— Tiffany Crawford

A B.C. judge has upheld an employer’s right to place an employee on an unpaid leave of absence for failing to comply with a mandatory COVID vaccination policy.

The decision of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather MacNaughton was made in the case of a senior manager of a property management firm who had declined to get vaccinated.

In her lawsuit, Deepak Parmar alleged that she had been constructively dismissed from her employment with Tribe Management, claiming that the company had breached its contractual obligations by imposing the mandatory policy.

Parmar, an accounting professional who is not an anti-vaxxer, according to the judge, was concerned that the vaccines were prepared and distributed hastily and that there was limited data about their long-term efficacy and potential negative health implications.

Read the full story here.

— Keith Fraser

The removal of mask mandates and vaccine requirements has medical professionals and front-line workers reiterating that COVID-19 is still a threat.

The federal government announced on Monday that starting Oct. 1, all COVID-19 entry restrictions will be removed, including testing, quarantine and isolation requirements for anyone entering Canada.

A professor of epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, Nazeem Muhajarine, said that the lifting of restrictions did not come as a surprise to him and other medical professionals as Canada could only last so long before joining other countries’ regulatory practices.

Canada is one of the last countries to remove travel requirements following the U.S. and the U.K. — yet, Muhajarine said, the removal of the requirements does not mean the removal of the threat of COVID-19.

“On the one hand saying that there’s no restrictions now applied, and on the other hand saying that the pandemic is not over, those two things seem to not go hand in hand,” said Muhajarine.

—The Canadian Press

The Liberal government will stop requiring travellers to use the ArriveCAN app — though new data shows that since the start of the year, more than 1.65 million individuals already flaunted the rules by arriving at the border without providing the information through the app.

The government said Monday it would lift all COVID-19-related travel measures on Oct. 1, including the requirement that travellers to Canada use the ArriveCAN app to provide COVID-19 vaccine, health and travel information before they arrive. The move follows opposition to the app from business groups, including the travel and tourism industry, and the Conservative Party.

According to a document tabled in the House of Commons last week, between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, a total of 1,651,900 travellers had “presented themselves at the border for entry into Canada without having submitted their public health information through ArriveCAN prior to arrival.” That number accounts for about 4.3 per cent of the 38.5 million individuals who entered Canada via air or land from the start of the year to Sept. 11.

Read the full story here.

— The National Post

Restaurant supplier Russell Hendrix’s managers had to do a lot of juggling in the company’s flagship showroom to cover for two floor sales jobs that took months to fill, even offering $1,000 signing bonuses.

“Vancouver was a challenge for me before the pandemic, but the pandemic just made it a lot harder,” said Anna Blaszczynska, the company’s vice-president of human resources, who has taken the “unprecedented” step of using a recruiting agency to find those showroom sales reps, which is usually an entry-level position.

And with B.C.’s province-wide unemployment rate near record lows, 4.8 per cent as of August, according to Statistics Canada’s labour force survey, Blaszczynska doesn’t know “if there’s going to be an end to this.”

B.C. isn’t alone. Nation-wide, the workforce that was first upended by massive job losses at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic is being upended again by multiple forces.

In many cases, workers aren’t returning to jobs they lost, having opted to switch careers. Then there is the simple demographic pressure of workers retiring faster than new candidates entering the workforce.

Read the full story here.

— Derrick Penner

Workers worried about safety of returning to office as potential COVID wave looms this fall

Some Canadian workers are raising concerns about a full return to office and work travel as Ottawa lifts all remaining border restrictions and experts warn of a potentially large wave of new COVID-19 cases this fall.

The “living with COVID” stage has seen most mask mandates dropped, self-isolation rules nixed and mandatory workplace vaccine polices rescinded. Yet as the risk of repeat infection and long COVID is better understood, some workers worry about exposure from a daily commute, travelling for conferences or working in a shared space.

Some are even leaving their positions that require office attendance or significant travel.

Ben MacLeod quit his dream job over health concerns. Earlier this year he moved back to his hometown of Halifax from Asia in search of career experience and safe harbour during the pandemic.

Nova Scotia’s response to the novel coronavirus was among the most cautious in the world and he thought it was a safe bet.

Instead, he said he was told to work in person as the Omicron variant swept the province. Most of his colleagues eschewed masks, even as COVID-19 cases spread through the office. He quietly moved his laptop to an unused meeting room, but was told he must work from the open-concept office with everyone else.

The final straw came when he was reprimanded for not attending a work meeting, he said. There was no virtual option and no agenda other than to note that food would be served — a potential COVID-spreading event he was uncomfortable attending.

— The Canadian Press

Federal ministers say all COVID-19 border restrictions will end as of Saturday, including mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine of international travellers, as well as mandatory masks on planes and trains.

The cabinet order maintaining COVID-19 border measures will not be renewed when it expires on Sept. 30.

The change will mean foreign nationals no longer require an approved series of vaccinations to enter the country.

It also means Canada-bound travellers will no longer be subject to random mandatory COVID-19 tests, and unvaccinated Canadians will not need to isolate when they return to the country.

— The Canadian Press

Prominent Chinese commentator Hu Xijin said on Sunday that as China ponders its COVID-19 policies, epidemic experts need to speak out and China ought to conduct comprehensive research and make any studies transparent to the public.

Hu’s unusual call on Chinese social media for candour and transparency earned him 34,000 likes on the popular Twitter-like microblog Weibo, as well as frank responses from netizens in a normally tightly policed internet quick to censor voices deemed a risk to social stability.

China’s top leaders warned in May amid the COVID lockdown of Shanghai and widespread restrictions in the Chinese capital Beijing that they would fight any comment or action that distorted, doubted or repudiated the country’s COVID policies.

“About the future, China needs very rational research and calculations,” said Hu, former editor-in-chief of nationalist state tabloid Global Times. “Experts must speak out, and the country should organize comprehensive studies and make them transparent to the public: what are the pros and cons for our common people, and what are the overall pros and cons for the country?”

— Reuters

All adults in Ontario can now book an appointment to receive an Omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday.

The province made the bivalent vaccine available to its most vulnerable populations earlier this month, but said appointments to receive the new shot would be open to all residents 18 or over as of Sept. 26.Health Minister Sylvia Jones says getting a booster dose is especially important with the start of the fall and winter respiratory illness season.— The Canadian Press

A new study says reduced access to HIV services during early COVID-19 lockdowns in British Columbia was associated with a “sharp increase” in HIV transmission among some drug users.

The study by University of British Columbia researchers says that while reduced social interaction during the March-May 2020 lockdown worked to reduce HIV transmission, that may not have “outweighed” the increase caused by reduced access to services.

The study, published in Lancet Regional Health, found that fewer people started HIV antiretroviral therapy or undertook viral load testing under lockdown, while visits to overdose prevention services and safe consumption sites also decreased.

The overall number of new HIV diagnoses in B.C. continues a decades-long decline.

— The Canadian Press

In four days of fiery speeches over war, climate change and the threat of nuclear weapons, one issue felt like an afterthought during this year’s UN General Assembly: the coronavirus pandemic.

Masks were often pulled below chins — or not worn at all — and any mention of COVID-19 by world leaders typically came at the tail-end of a long list of grievances.

But on the sidelines of the annual meeting, the pandemic was still very much part of the conversation.

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gathered with World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell and others to discuss equitable access to COVID vaccines, tests and treatments.

— The Associated Press

22 deaths, 305 in hospital: Weekly data from BCCDC

British Columbia saw 22 more people who recently tested positive for COVID-19 die over the week of Sept. 11-17 in preliminary data released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on Thursday.

The number of people in hospital with COVID dipped slightly to 305 as of Thursday, with 22 of those in intensive care.

Including updated mortality data from several recent weeks, a total of 4,253 people have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Another 637 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed this week, but limited testing means this understates the prevalence of the virus in the population.

For a primer on how to interpret data in the BCCDC weekly reports, click here.

— Joseph Ruttle

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 space.

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.

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 gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated 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.

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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