Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

OKAN Launches Hot Flash Relief, Maca and Ashwagandha by OKAN Vitamins

OKAN Launches Hot Flash Relief, Maca and Ashwagandha by OKAN Vitamins: OKAN, a start-up in the women’s health and wellness industry and the maker of OKAN Vitamins, today announced the launch of Hot Flash Relief, Maca and Ashwagandha by OKAN Vitamins (www.okanvitamins.com). This new women’s vitamin line addresses issues of menstruation, menopause, and the overall...

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Covid-19: New coronavirus variant is identified in UK

 News News Briefing


BMJ 2020371 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4857 (Published 16 December 2020)Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4857

Read our latest coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

England’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, has told parliament that a new variant of covid-19 has been identified and may be driving infections in the south east, leading to headlines about “mutant covid.” Jacqui Wise answers some common questions

What do we know about this new SARS-CoV-2 variant?

It’s been snappily named VUI-202012/01 (the first “Variant Under Investigation” in December 2020) and is defined by a set of 17 changes or mutations. One of the most significant is an N501Y mutation in the spike protein that the virus uses to bind to the human ACE2 receptor. Changes in this part of spike protein may, in theory, result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people.

How was the variant detected?

It was picked up by the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, which undertakes random genetic sequencing of positive covid-19 samples around the UK. The consortium is a partnership of the UK’s four public health agencies, as well as the Wellcome Sanger Institute and 12 academic institutions.

Since being set up in April 2020 the consortium has sequenced 140 000 virus genomes from people infected with covid-19. It uses the data to track outbreaks, identify variant viruses, and publish a weekly report (https://www.cogconsortium.uk/data/).

How common is it?

As of 13 December, 1108 cases with this variant had been identified in the UK in nearly 60 different local authorities, although the true number will be much higher. These cases were predominantly in the south east of England, but there have been recent reports from further afield, including Wales and Scotland.

Nick Loman, professor of microbial genomics and bioinformation at the University of Birmingham, told a briefing by the Science Media Centre on 15 December that the variant was first spotted in late September and now accounts for 20% of viruses sequenced in Norfolk, 10% in Essex, and 3% in Suffolk. “There are no data to suggest it had been imported from abroad, so it is likely to have evolved in the UK,” he said.

Does this variant spread more quickly?

Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on 14 December that initial analysis showed that the new variant “may be associated” with the recent rise in cases in southeast England. However, this is not the same as saying that it is causing the rise.

Loman explained, “This variant is strongly associated with where we are seeing increasing rates of covid-19. It’s a correlation, but we can’t say it is causation. But there is striking growth in this variant, which is why we are worried, and it needs urgent follow-up and investigation.”

Is mutation to be expected?

SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus, and mutations arise naturally as the virus replicates. Many thousands of mutations have already arisen, but only a very small minority are likely to be important and to change the virus in an appreciable way. COG-UK says that there are currently around 4000 mutations in the spike protein.

Sharon Peacock, director of COG-UK, told the Science Media Centre briefing, “Mutations are expected and are a natural part of evolution. Many thousands of mutations have already arisen, and the vast majority have no effect on the virus but can be useful as a barcode to monitor outbreaks.”

Is the new variant more dangerous?

We don’t know yet. Mutations that make viruses more infectious don’t necessarily make them more dangerous. A number of variants have already been detected in the UK. For example, the D614G variant is believed to have increased the ability of the virus to be transmitted and is now the most common type circulating in the UK, although it doesn’t seem to result in more severe disease.

Public Health England’s laboratory at Porton Down is currently working to find any evidence that the new variant increases or decreases the severity of disease. Susan Hopkins, joint medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England, said, “There is currently no evidence that this strain causes more severe illness, although it is being detected in a wide geography, especially where there are increased cases being detected.”

Will the vaccine still work?

The new variant has mutations to the spike protein that the three leading vaccines are targeting. However, vaccines produce antibodies against many regions in the spike protein, so it’s unlikely that a single change would make the vaccine less effective.

Over time, as more mutations occur, the vaccine may need to be altered. This happens with seasonal flu, which mutates every year, and the vaccine is adjusted accordingly. The SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t mutate as quickly as the flu virus, and the vaccines that have so far proved effective in trials are types that can easily be tweaked if necessary.

Peacock said, “With this variant there is no evidence that it will evade the vaccination or a human immune response. But if there is an instance of vaccine failure or reinfection then that case should be treated as high priority for genetic sequencing.”

This article is made freely available for use in accordance with BMJ's website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Our biggest COVID-19 problem is undue panic

 By Marco Navarro-Genie

Senior Fellow
Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Seven months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, against evidence and common sense, media, elected officials and health experts continue peddling the panic that gripped them in March.
 
Almost daily, headlines announce new records in the number of COVID-19 cases. The federal health minister, the chief medical officer and the prime minister are ringing bells about a second COVID-19 wave. They renewed calls for stricter measures short of another devastating lockdown, and the provinces followed suit.

Despite the contradictory details, panic is what threads the inconsistencies in their messages.

This panic didn’t arrive with the first few COVID-19 deaths. Let’s recall that all three public officials initially assured us the risk for Canada was very low. Rather, the panic followed the release of statistical models. They didn’t know better when dread replaced common sense. There was no reliable data. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese numbers couldn’t be trusted, and images from Spain and Italy painted a grim picture.

So governments resorted to theoretical models. Using British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson’s model that predicted tens of millions of deaths from COVID-19, lockdowns were imposed.

Based on such models, the federal government’s predictions released on April 9th warned of 44,000 deaths across Canada. Two days earlier, Albertans heard about the possibility of as many as 6,600 deaths for the province, a figure only one digit shy of full apocalyptic symbolism.

The models were wrong, and so were most decisions issued from them.

Let’s remind ourselves that governments chose to lock us down so that the health system would not be overwhelmed.

That was then. With sorrowful hearts and without minimizing the losses, we know better now.

Fresh data rolls in daily. These data tell a story that doesn’t justify the continued panic, the restrictions trampling liberties, the orders killing businesses, and the health directives making public health even worse. Even with the current case resurgence in mind, they don’t justify the levels of hardship, suffering and deaths resulting from government lockdown policies.

Spain, one of the hardest-hit countries, has 88 per cent less casualties during the second wave of infections than it experienced in March having similar numbers of cases. Belgium, the European country with the worst mortality rate per population, has now 95.5 per cent fewer deaths on the average than at the spring peak, even though the second infection wave is larger. The same pattern can be seen for Italy and many other countries.

Canada’s second-wave infections are now more numerous than at the May peak, but with 80 per cent fewer deaths. The trend of increased infections, in other words, won’t overwhelm health systems. The overwhelming problem is moral panic among decision makers.

Sweden, which refused to panic and didn’t lockdown, is in even better shape. It’s also experiencing a resurgence in infection cases. But with only half the size of the peak numbers now than it had in June, deaths are 98 per cent fewer than in the spring. Overall, the fears of a worse second wave are unfounded. Furthermore, Sweden’s unique case demonstrates that the government-imposed lockdown experiments are largely irrelevant to the advance or slowdown of COVID-19 infections.

Let’s protect the people at risk and let’s do it well. The provinces that are driving the second wave in Canada still have a significant number of infections shamefully continuing in long-term care facilities.

The time has come to stop obsessing about the number of cases, even if they’re rising. Cases don’t equal hospitalizations and they don’t equal deaths. The time has come to stop being led by panic.


There’s ample evidence that the lockdown policies governments imposed on Canadians have increased a host of social and economic evils that may be worse than the disease they sought to prevent. They’re corrupting parliamentary traditions, undermining democratic practices, curtailing the powers of Parliament, and undermining national health and the national economic interest.

They have contributed to bankrupting businesses, killing jobs, heaping mountains of debt, vaporizing savings, fostering spikes in numbers of suicides, drug overdoses, family breakdowns, domestic violence, child abuses and much more.

The continued but misplaced fear about case numbers doesn’t justify fostering the growing litany of government-inflicted miseries.

Marco Navarro-Génie is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the president of the Haultain Research Institute. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of the upcoming COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic.








Monday, November 23, 2020

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Joe Biden Elected President - Questions Loom About the Federal Estate Tax

Joe Biden Elected President - Questions Loom About the Federal Estate Tax: The law firm of Morris Hall, PLLC (MH), the largest estate planning law firm in Arizona, congratulates Joe Biden on presumptively winning his bid to become President of the United States.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Poll exposes key problems with a national pharmacare plan

 

Rather than covering every Canadian for drugs they can already afford, we should focus on those who fall through the cracks

By Bacchus Barua
Economist
The Fraser Institute

With fears related to COVID-19 and the economy running high, a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute reveals near universal support for some sort of public pharmacare plan. However, it also inadvertently revealed that, despite such support, most Canadians don’t actually need it.

Conducted in partnership with a list of experts who have long advocated for a national publicly-funded plan, the survey reports that 86 per cent of respondents support “the concept of having pharmacare” in Canada.

But the same survey also reports that 72 per cent have “most or all of the cost of their prescriptions covered by insurance and government support.”

A much lower (though concerning) 23 per cent of respondents report having difficulty paying for their prescriptions.

So on one hand, a clear majority of Canadians seem to support a universal pharmacare program, while on the other only a minority (albeit a sizable one) seem to actually need it.

One reason for this relative incongruence may have to do with perception. For example, many Canadians may be unaware that provincial plans already help low-income families pay for prescription medications.

Every province offers drug coverage to social assistance recipients at low or no cost. And provincial governments also administer a variety of social programs to cover drug costs for the disabled and those with chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and HIV.

It’s therefore worth asking whether the 44 per cent of Canadians who, according to the survey, are concerned about their ability to afford prescription drugs down the road are actually aware of such programs. And if they’re not, perhaps a first (and much less expensive step) would be for governments to do a better job of educating residents about the existence of such programs.

Another reason may be envy. Canadians have been repeatedly told that Canada is the only industrialized universal health-care country that doesn’t provide universal coverage for prescription drugs.

What goes unsaid is that the other countries provide universal health care in a markedly differently way than Canada. While countries such Australia and the United Kingdom provide coverage for pharmaceuticals through government-run programs, others (such as Switzerland and the Netherlands) provide universal access for all health-care services – including pharmaceuticals – through private insurers. And all four countries allow a private-sector role in the insurance and delivery of medical services.

It’s clear that many Canadians still fall through the cracks. The survey contains useful information on who these Canadians may be – those earning less than $25,000 a year (44 per cent) and visible minorities (36 per cent).

Advocates for a national pharmacare program should consider whether a new and expensive public program that covers a small list of essential drugs for all Canadians (including millionaires, for example) is actually the most efficient way to assist groups who need it most.

And there’s the question of whether issues of affordability actually have more to do with the types of drugs covered rather than whether individuals are insured. For example, if a breakthrough drug isn’t listed for coverage (whether on a private or public plan), individuals will likely have difficulty paying for it.

Given that private insurers usually offer coverage for a greater number of drugs than government plans, it’s unlikely that expanding a government plan to include the general population will alleviate these type of cost-related issues.

In fact, new price restrictions due to accompanying changes to the little-known but very important Patented Medicine Prices Review Board may lead to lower drug costs for a future government insurer – but also the absence of certain drugs from the Canadian market.

While many may interpret the results of this poll as a green light for a national publicly-funded pharmacare plan, they should actually make people (including policy-makers) pause and reflect on the information.

Rather than jump the gun and implement a broad plan that covers every Canadian (at great cost) for drugs they can already afford, advocates should seek to identify the 23 per cent of Canadians who fall through the cracks and connect them with (and improve on) existing programs.

Bacchus Barua is an economist at the Fraser Institute.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Canadians embracing the joy of pandemic gardening

 

A Dalhousie University survey shows more Canadians are gardening during the COVID-19 crisis. Anxiety may play a role

By Sylvain Charlebois
Professor
Dalhousie University

They say gardening is good for the soul. Apparently many Canadians agree as they have opted to ‘pandemic garden’ this year.

The Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Angus Reid, recently released a study on home gardening, just in time for Thanksgiving. The survey was conducted earlier this month and included more than 1,000 Canadians from across the country.

The study, entitled Home Food Gardening in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, looked at the prevalence and varieties of, and attitudes tooward home food gardening in Canada during the pandemic.

The report suggested that 51 per cent of respondents grow at least one variety of fruit or vegetable in a garden. Of those, 17.4 per cent started growing food at home in 2020 during COVID-19 – that’s almost one in five Canadians.

A total of 67 per cent of new gardeners in 2020 agree that the pandemic influenced their decision to start growing food at home.

More British Columbians and Prairie residents are home food gardeners than are not. Ontario is almost exactly even between those who grow food at home and those who don’t, at 50.1 and 49.9 per cent respectively. Of all respondents who grow food at home in Atlantic Canada, 23.7 per cent started gardening this year, the highest proportion of new gardeners in a region of Canada.

Anxiety may have something to do with why people gardened so much this year. The report showed many Canadians remain concerned about our food supplies with 52.6 per cent of respondents at least somewhat worried about food shortages during COVID-19.

Given that the survey was conducted just days ago, that was surprising.

Only seven per cent of respondents are not worried about food shortages. Among new home food gardeners, 53.9 per cent are worried about food shortages compared to 55.2 per cent of longtime gardeners.

Furthermore, 39.8 per cent of total respondents at least somewhat agree that finding certain specific foodstuffs has been challenging during the pandemic.

Many Canadians are clearly concerned about food affordability, another reason why perhaps many started to garden this year. Of total respondents, 85 per cent are concerned that food prices will rise because of the pandemic. That’s a lot.

Living arrangements were also evaluated. You don’t need a yard to grow food in Canada. In fact, 18.6 per cent of gardeners are growing at least some food on balconies. Of all respondents who grow food at home and live in Quebec, 31.3 per cent grow at least some food on a balcony, the highest percentage in the country.

A total of 82.4 per cent of home food gardeners live in single-family homes, which corresponds to the fact that 70.2 per cent of them grow at least some of their home produce in their yards.

This was truly a stellar year for gardening but it remains unclear whether it will last.

The lockdown in the spring got us to spend more time at home, which got many to redefine their living space. Most importantly, given concerns related to potential food shortages and affordability, new gardeners simply wanted to take control over their food supply chain.

And gardening is a perfect compliment to cooking, which most of us have done plenty of since March.

Gardening is a good thing, even in the worst of times. As such, the report provides several recommendations. For example, it recommends that municipal governments increase awareness of their community gardens and that studies be conducted among city residents to discover their level of interest in growing their own food in a community garden.

The report also states that given the number of condominium and apartment home food gardeners, this presents a unique opportunity for condo boards, renters’ groups and neighbourhood organizations to start home food growing associations.

It will be interesting to see if Canadians remain committed to gardening in years to come, when our quest towards normalcy is complete.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University. Lisa Mullins, a research associate at the School of Information Management and Dalhousie University, co-authored this commentary.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Annual Awards Recognize Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Members for Outstanding Contributions to Veterinary Medicine

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Online Uncontested Divorces Nearly Doubled for Canada’s Untie The Knot During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Our pandemic response seems like a guessing game

From suspect modelling to poor stockpiling to a lack of perspective on historic events, we failed to be ready for COVID-19

By Deborah Prabhu
and Allan Bonner
Troy Media contributors

Where will the COVID-19 pandemic fit into history? What will be the lessons learned, if any?

Our guess is we’re learning how little we did to prepare and how much we’re guessing in response as we go along.

We had three pandemics in the 20th century.

The Spanish Flu in 1918-20 probably killed as many as 100 million people. We say probably because records weren’t accurate and the pandemic happened in part during a war. The official death toll is about 40 million.

We don’t see many popular culture references to this event – people wearing masks in movies, newsreels or in photographs of the era. But they did. A new biography of Ronald Reagan by Bob Spitz notes that even in the small towns of the U.S. Midwest, masks were handed out but usually only voluntarily worn. In passing, he notes that the Spanish Flu killed 25 million people in three months. We’re nowhere near there yet.

The 1957-68 flu may have killed two million people and the Hong Kong Flu in 1968-69 may have killed about one million.

The World Health Organization has estimated that an avian flu might kill between eight million and 350 million people.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) event in 2003 was statistically irrelevant with 8,000 cases worldwide and 800 deaths.

Two million people die from diarrhea each year, more than 40,000 North Americans die from ordinary flu, about 50,000 die on highways and perhaps 5,000 die from food poisoning.

Very few people died from a later bird flu – the toll was in the low hundreds. We also had swine flu, avian flu, MERS and other smaller events.

So how little we prepared is easy to document. After all these events, we were still shaking hands and crowding together. We did little to combat regular flu or food poisoning, didn’t stockpile supplies, and the list goes on.

These things were occasionally discussed in medical journals, documentaries and news reports, but then we went back to sleep.

Imagine if we’d really attacked the annual flu or food poisoning with hand washing, general cleanliness, mandatory shots and so on.

Imagine if we’d required workers in hospitals and seniors centres to use new scrubs when arriving for a shift, not wear them on the streets, and only work in one facility. An old study in United Kingdom hospitals notes how filthy physicians’ ties and pagers were, to the point that ties were banned. Other studies show how infrequently lab coats are washed.

Other preventive measures might have included getting off high-fructose corn syrup, improving diet in other ways and taking other dietary precautions, improving and promoting better general health, and using new, wearable technology to monitor blood pressure, respiration and other health indicators.

Why didn’t cities, hospitals, states, provinces, national governments and others stockpile enough personal protective equipment for this event?

Masks, gowns and gloves aren’t that expensive.

Why don’t urban emergency plans feature more pandemic advice?

Many don’t mention the word.

What were the plans in cities for remote working, cleaning transit vehicles, using vending machines for food, handling retail sales on sidewalks and so on?

Why did we keep using fragile supply chains and just-in-time delivery?

We manufactured our own shortages.

We could have banned the international trade in exotic animals for pets and eating.

In the same way that our foreign policy tries to promote democracy and governance issues around the world, we could have also promoted sanitation.

That’s all evidence of a lack of preparation.

As for the information we’re receiving, a lay person could be forgiven for assuming that experts are guessing. We’ve seen models predicting American deaths ranging from 38,000 to 2.5 million. That’s too broad a range for a scientist to express without significant contextualization.

Let’s look at British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson’s predictions for past events and this pandemic.

In 2005, an epidemiological model by Ferguson predicted that bird flu might kill 200 million worldwide. The death toll four years later was 282.

On his advice, during the swine flu epidemic, the U.K. government indicated that Britain’s “worst-case scenario” was that the disease would claim 65,000 lives. The death toll was 457.

Some years before, he feared deaths from mad cow disease would reach 50,000. The actual number was 177.

In a paper he co-authored paper in March, Ferguson and his colleagues estimated the COVID-19 pandemic would result in “approximately 510,000 deaths in G.B. and 2.2 million in the U.S.” That prediction was based on the assumption that only drug-free interventions were being used.

We always knew the big risks: animal-to-human transmission and then human-to-human. We also knew the impact of a new strain, rendering current drugs ineffective.

All this has come to pass with the current pandemic. But why have predictions on impact been so broad and so off the mark (thus far)?

There have been improvements in science and public health over the last century. The flu virus wasn’t isolated in a lab until long after the Spanish Flu, so there were lots of guesses. Guesses included that the flu was spread by musty books.

We now have better sanitation, hand-washing and fitness. But diet, including obesity and other pre-existing conditions, may be worse.

The Spanish Flu was spread in part by soldiers crammed into close quarters and the Hong Kong flu was spread in part by soldiers returning to the United States from Vietnam.

That’s not happening now. But we have an aging and thus more vulnerable population and seniors homes are a relatively new way of housing this population. They’ve been hard hit.

There may be some immunity to certain strains of flu for those who have lived through the pandemics of 1957 and 1968, and even the smaller events such as swine and avian flu. That may mean that the healthy group of teens who seem to be shunning preventive measures could be at greater risk. There’s more travelling these days, and a virus catches a ride on an airplane instead of a slow boat.

With all those variables, it’s a wonder any prediction is even close to accurate. But there’s another challenge, and that’s with modelling methods.

There’s a trend to using computer models and engineering techniques to predict future impact. This makes sense. We can’t infect real people to see what happens.

But many of the models assume an outcome based on current behaviour and events. We highly suspect that behaviour and events will change. We know this from other models. Media reports, social cues – what your friends and neighbours are doing – and many other variables affect outcomes.

A scientific model has to make certain assumptions. But those assumptions, like product labelling, should be front and centre in the publication of models. Some models assume all variables remain constant, which isn’t going to happen. Other models assume behaviour in one country will be mirrored in another, and that’s also not going to happen.

Pollsters provide product labelling. If they don’t, their work is subject to ridicule. A poll is a snapshot in time but time is marching on with all variables changing. Pollsters remind consumers that the poll is only accurate within four percentage points, 19 times out of 20. They also publish the sample size and whether they interviewed people in person, on the phone or via the Internet. All these methods can make a difference.

Unfortunately, when scientific models are translated from medical journals to daily newspapers, any disclaimers seem to be downplayed. And some researchers like to get into the daily press and may highlight scary findings, but not be good at contextualizing them. The result is now a lack of trust in these scientific findings.

That lack of trust is translating into a lack of compliance. Pandemic infections and deaths are rising in several U.S. states that have opened up too soon. How this will impact the trust in elected and appointed officials remains to be seen, but it’s not good news in a democracy.

Dr. Deborah Prabhu, MBBS, graduated with distinction as a physician and worked in medicine in India before moving to Toronto. Dr. Allan Bonner, MSc, DBA, is a crisis manager based in Toronto.