After a long year, there is some hope for an end to the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the world as Canada approved a promising vaccine.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was reported to be 95% effective in clinical trials that involved tens of thousands of patients. Canada said that 249,000 doses were expected to be available by the end of the year, to be distributed to provinces on a per-capita basis.
Quebec has said that patients and staff in residential and long-term care centres are its priority, followed by healthcare workers and seniors’ homes, and then remote Northern communities. The first vaccines were administered mid-December at long-term care homes in Montreal and Quebec City.
“However, it is very important to remember that we may still be a long way away from getting these vaccines for our communities. There are many logistical issues, and we are looking for solutions,” announced Cree Health Board Vice-Chair Christine Petawabano in a radio address.
That’s in part because of the logistical challenges with the vaccine, which must be stored between -60 and –80 degrees Celsius and used within five days of thawing. Nunavik public health officials said they don’t anticipate having vaccines available before the new year.
An additional six million doses are supposed to be available by March 31, 2021. Quebec said it anticipates immunizing 650,000 people by that date.
That news came as infections increased across Quebec and much of the country and governments imposed new restrictions to try and control infection rates.
Cree health authorities urged individuals to limit their travel over the holidays, to limit the number of people travelling, to verify the rules and restrictions at their destination, to be extra careful, and to be honest with health officials at local checkpoints. However, travel between Cree communities is still considered safe.
Areas of risk requiring mandatory self-isolation upon returning include every area of Quebec, except Region 8 (Abitibi-Témiscamingue), Region 10 (Nord-du-Québec), Region 17 (Nunavik) and Region 18 (Eeyou Istchee). Chibougamau and Chapais are deemed an area of risk, except for residents of Ouje-Bougoumou, Mistissini, and now, Waswanipi.
Waswanipi was moved into Phase 3 of deconfinement, joining Ouje-Bougoumou and Mistissini, meaning that there are limits of 75 people or 10 households for outdoor gatherings and 25 people or three households for indoor gatherings.
Cree health officials said that while the situation in Chibougamau and Chapais was improving, they remained in the red zone, and people were asked to only travel there for essential services, school and medical appointments, unless otherwise advised by Wiichihiituwin.
Safety measures introduced at the Chibougamau hospital allow for only one bedside escort per day, while pregnant women giving birth are allowed one friend or family member to accompany them.
Region 2 (Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean) saw over 2,000 new cases in the past two weeks, including outbreaks in seniors’ homes, with increasing hospitalizations and deaths. That brought the totals in Region 2 to 5,980 cases and 159 dead.
The Cree Health Board said it was working to increase its testing capacity, having completed 1,513 regular tests, 1,943 screening tests and 1,167 tests for Wiichihiituwin patients and escorts travelling south.
The Cree School Board said a new academic calendar has classes starting on January 11. Some classes may be online until January 18 to comply with the necessary 14-day isolation period for returning teachers.
Every community must provide a travel and isolation protocol for students returning home for the holidays, with more information to be posted on eeyoueducation.ca. Parents were also reminded to complete the daily health questionnaire on that site.
Premier François Legault announced that holiday gatherings will be prohibited in the province’s hardest-hit red zones. Legault urged Quebecers to limit their contacts, saying that too many people were in hospitals, which are being forced to scale back surgeries and other treatments.
Quebec hasn’t ruled out imposing wide-scale closures over the holidays to try and lower the rising infection rate and encouraged businesses that can close from December 17 to January 4 to voluntarily do so.
Across Canada, there have been over 156,000 cases of Covid-19 and 7,349 deaths.