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Saskatchewan lab joins global effort to develop coronavirus vaccine

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Jan 24th, 2020

As Canadian public health agencies prepare to deal with a new viral illness, a specialized lab in Saskatoon is using its research on different strains of the coronavirus to help develop a vaccine.

The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre, also known as VIDO-InterVac, has received permission from the Public Health Agency of Canada to focus on the threat.

“People need to work together and collaborate and share the information,” said its executive director, Volker Gerdts.

The deadly coronavirus, first linked to a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has been connected to 26 deaths and infections in hundreds of people. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States have each reported at least one case of the virus.

There have been no confirmed cases in Canada and officials say the risk of an outbreak remains low.

About five or six people in Canada are being monitored, including those with a travel history to the Wuhan area and with symptoms of the illness. Respiratory samples are being sent to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

“Emerging diseases arrive and, because of all the travel we do and the connectiveness we have right now, the world becomes smaller and smaller and there’s a better chance for these pathogens to quickly spread around the globe,” Gerdts said.

The Saskatchewan lab was developed in the wake of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, outbreak in 2003 to ensure that Canada could be prepared for emerging disease and illness, he added.

Researchers there have spent a significant amount of time focusing on pathogens like coronaviruses. Gerdts said they’ve successfully developed a vaccine for coronavirus strains in cattle and pigs.

“We have expertise in working with them.”

While coronaviruses are relatively small, they are known for mutating and jumping species, which is why they cause so many problems.

Gerdts explained the coronavirus strain in pigs had not been seen in North America until two years ago. But within a year it had affected 10 million of the animals.

Colleagues in China have made the outbreak-specific coronavirus genome sequence available to researchers around the world, Gerdts said. His lab is now using it to hopefully find a way to help.

The lab also has clearance to handle samples of the pathogen and is attempting to get samples from China or the U.S. If that’s not possible, it will order synthetic gene fragments.

The goal is to have the first vaccine candidates ready for testing in animals within six to eight weeks, Gerdts said. But human trials are at least a year away.

Gerdts said Canada has shown a leading role in developing vaccines, including one for the Ebola virus, and there’s a need to have more capacity to manufacture them here.

If his lab had a manufacturing facility that he’s been advocating for, he said production of a coronavirus vaccine for human testing could happen quicker.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Canadian research is part of a global effort and will be shared with the World Health Organization.

“We currently do not have a specific vaccine against this novel coronavirus,” she said. “With a global effort on preparedness, I think that’s something that we need to strive for.”

Boy charged with murder after woman, 54, found dead in home near St. Clair and Oakwood

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Jan 24th, 2020

A boy has been charged with murder after a woman was found dead in a home near St. Clair and Oakwood Avenues.

Police say they discovered the body on Monday at a home on Atlas Street after being called to conduct a well-being check.

An autopsy was conducted and her death has been ruled a homicide. She has been identified as Giulia Matthews of Toronto.

Her cause of death has not been released. It’s believed her body had been in the home for quite some time before she was found.

A boy under 18 has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He can’t be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Police said he was arrested in Manitoba and will be brought back to Toronto.

China confirms 26 deaths related to coronavirus, expands lockdown

YANAN WANG, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Friday, Jan 24th, 2020

China is swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities during the country’s most important holiday.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least 10 cities with a total of about 33 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and nine of its neighbours in central China’s Hubei province.

“To address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” Wuhan authorities said in a Friday notice, the city is constructing a hospital modeled after the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing. The facility will be a prefabricated structure on a 25,000- square-meter (270,000-square-foot) lot, slated for completion Feb. 3.

The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China to more than a dozen countries and killed about 800 people. The hospital featured individual isolation units that looked like rows of tiny cabins.

Normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet in Wuhan on the second day of its lockdown. Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation. Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

Hospitals in Wuhan were grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of supplies. Videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for checks. Some users on Weibo said their family members had sought diagnoses but were turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

At least eight hospitals in Wuhan issued public calls for donations of masks, googles, gowns and other protective medical gear, according to notices online. Administrators at Wuhan University People’s Hospital set up a group chat on the popular WeChat messaging app to co-ordinate donations.

The “Fever Control Command Center” of the city of Huanggang also put out a call for donations publicized by the state-run People’s Daily, asking for medical supplies, medicine and disinfection equipment. The notice added that at the moment they wouldn’t accept supplies from foreign countries.

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were cancelled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. Two major tourist destinations, Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland, announced they will close indefinitely on Saturday.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said. Twenty-six people have died, including the first two deaths outside Hubei and the youngest recorded victim.

The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.

While the majority of deaths have been older patients, a 36-year-old man in Hubei was admitted to the hospital earlier this month after suffering from fever for three days. He died following a sudden cardiac arrest on Jan. 23.

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan, but people who visited or had personal connections to infected people were among the scattered cases counted beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday and Singapore confirmed its third. Cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand and Vietnam.

Many countries are screening travellers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.

The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as SARS and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

The Wuhan outbreak is suspected to have begun from wild animals sold at a food market in the city. The market is closed for investigation.

Across China, a slew of cancellations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.

One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits.

Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancellations.

Associated Press researcher Henry Hou and video journalist Dake Kang contributed to this report.

Boy, 7, seriously injured in Hamilton shooting

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Jan 24th, 2020

A seven-year-old boy suffered serious injuries following a shooting in Hamilton, an incident police say is “unacceptable.”

Hamilton police say they responded to reports of a shooting in the east end of the city just before 8 p.m.

When they arrived they discovered the young boy had been struck by at least one bullet that had been fired from outside the home.

Police have not released any other details surrounding the incident including what may have led up to the shooting or any suspect descriptions. Police would also not confirm reports that this may have been a drive-by shooting.

“This is unacceptable,” said Hamilton deputy police chief Frank Bergen.

“Coming out of year of 47 shootings, we’ve already had three shootings in 2020 – this is our first victim. A 7-year-old is not acceptable.”

Paramedics said they transported the child to hospital with “serious, life-threatening” injuries. Police later updated the boy’s condition, saying it has since stabilized.

No one else was injured in the shooting.

“This is a time when our community has to stop and understand what the proliferation of guns are doing in our community,” said Bergen while appealing for anyone to come forward with information.

“We hear a great deal about the problems within the GTA and we are now talking about a sidewalk within our community that’s also affected by this. Let’s all of us start looking at what are the problems with guns and gangs and look at solutions together.”

TTC outlines plan for spending billions on new trains, buses and improvements

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Jan 23rd, 2020

The TTC says it plans to spend almost $5 billion on capacity improvements such as new subway trains and buses to address current and future growth.

A report to be considered by the TTC Board next Monday outlines how the transit agency plans to spend the bulk of the new money over the next decade, most of which will be collected through the City’s Building Fund as part of an overall property tax increase.

An additional $167 million is expected to be collected by a one-time increase in the Federal Gas Tax.

The report says $3.09 billion will be allocated to subway state of good repair which includes new tracks and switches and the installation of the automatic train control signalling system on Line 2, Bloor-Yonge.

Another $1.14 billion will be allocated to the purchase of 80 new subway trains, 60 new streetcars, 1,575 buses and 525 Wheel-trans vehicles.

Mayor John Tory says the report builds on the investments the city has made over the last five years.

“The 2020 budget includes the most significant investment in upgrading our transit system in the city’s history. It helps raise the approximately $5 billion that the City of Toronto needs to invest in new subways, new subway signal systems, new buses, new streetcars, and station upgrades as our share of the almost $30 billion transit expansion agreement with the province.”

TTC Chair Jaye Robinson says the additional capital funding will be used to finance a “once-in-a-generation, transformative subway infrastructure program” necessary to meet the needs of the city’s growing population.

“A majority of the additional capital funds must be committed to the maintenance, repair and improvement projects required to keep our subway running. As we saw this morning on Line 2, issues with our subway infrastructure can lead to significant delays for riders who rely on our system to get where they need to go.”

The plan still needs to be approved by TTC before its goes in front of City Council for its approval as part of the 2020 budget process.

China shuts city of millions to stop spread of deadly virus


China closed off a city of more than 11 million people Thursday in an unprecedented effort to try to contain a deadly new viral illness that has sickened hundreds and spread to other cities and countries amid the Lunar New Year travel rush.

Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded the Wuhan’s train station, where metal barriers blocked the entrances at 10 a.m. sharp. Only travellers holding tickets for the last trains were allowed to enter, with those booked for later trains being turned away. Virtually everyone at the scene was wearing masks, news website The Paper’s live broadcast showed.

Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in Wuhan were eerily quiet. Social media users posted that movie theatres were cancelling showings and complained that food vendors were exploiting the situation with huge price increases on fresh produce.

Images of the city posted online following the closure showed long lines and empty shelves at supermarkets as residents stocked up for what could be weeks of relative isolation.

“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, told The Associated Press in an interview at the WHO’s Beijing office. “It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”

Local authorities have demanded all residents wear masks in public places and urged government staff to wear them at work and for shopkeepers to post signs for their visitors, Xinhua news agency quoted a government notice as saying.

Train stations, the airport, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses were stopped in the city, an industrial and transportation hub in central China’s Hubei province. Xinhua cited the city’s anti-virus task force as saying the measures were taken in an attempt to “effectively cut off the virus spread, resolutely curb the outbreak and guarantee the people’s health and safety.”

Measures similar to those enacted in Wuhan were being taken at nearby cities in Hubei province, with public transport suspended and theatres, internet cafes and other entertainment centres closed beginning Friday, according to state media reports. That stands to prevent travel by millions more Chinese, potentially increasing the economic costs of the outbreak considerably.

Cake Liu left Wuhan last Friday after visiting her boyfriend there. She said everything was normal then, before human-to-human transmission of the virus was confirmed. But things have changed rapidly.

“(My boyfriend) didn’t sleep much yesterday. He disinfected his house and stocked up on instant noodles,” Liu said. “He’s not really going out. If he does he wears a mask.”

The illnesses from a newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan, and the vast majority of mainland China’s 571 cases have been in the city. Other cases have been reported in the Thailand, the United States, Japan and South Korea. One case was confirmed Thursday in Hong Kong after one was earlier confirmed in Macao. Most cases outside China were people from Wuhan or who had recently travelled there.

A total of 17 people have died, all of them in and around Wuhan. Their average age was 73, with the oldest 89 and the youngest 48.

The significant increase in illnesses reported just this week come as millions of Chinese travel for the Lunar New Year, one of the world’s largest annual migrations of people. Chinese are expected to take an estimated three-billion trips during the 40-day spike in travel.

While state broadcaster CCTV has largely ignored the outbreak to emphasize traditional observances of the festival, reports have filtered in of events such as temple fairs being cancelled in cities including Beijing.

Analysts have predicted the reported cases will continue to multiply.

“Even if (the number of cases) are in the thousands, this would not surprise us,” the WHO’s Galea said, adding, however, that the number of cases is not an indicator of the outbreak’s severity, so long as the mortality rate remains low.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, which developed from camels.

China is keen to avoid repeating mistakes with its handling of SARS. For months, even after the illness had spread around the world, China parked patients in hotels and drove them around in ambulances to conceal the true number of cases and avoid WHO experts.

In the current outbreak, China has been credited with sharing information rapidly, and President Xi Jinping has emphasized that as a priority.

“Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels must put people’s lives and health first,” Xi said Monday. “It is necessary to release epidemic information in a timely manner and deepen international co-operation.”

Health authorities were taking extraordinary measures to prevent additional person-to-person transmissions, placing those suspected to be infected in plastic tubes and wheeled boxes where air passed through filters.

The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak were connected to people who worked at or visited a seafood market, which has since been closed for an investigation. Experts suspect the virus was first transmitted from wild animals but the virus also may be mutating. Mutations can make it deadlier or more contagious.

WHO plans another meeting of scientific experts Thursday on whether to recommend declaring the outbreak a global health emergency, which it defines as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a co-ordinated international response.

Many countries are screening travellers from China for illness, especially those arriving from Wuhan. North Korea has banned foreign tourists, a step it also took during the SARS outbreak and in recent years due to Ebola. Most foreigners going to North Korea are Chinese or travel there through neighbouring China.

Associated Press researcher Shanshan Wang in Shanghai contributed to this report.

Domestic violence numbers rising across the GTA: police

MEREDITH BOND AND FAIZA AMIN | posted Thursday, Jan 23rd, 2020

After a record number of family or intimate partner homicides in Peel region last year, 28-year-old Heeral Patel became the first homicide victim of 2020 in Peel, and investigators named her ex-husband, a suspect. He later was found dead and police say his death is not being investigated.

Her death is part of a troubling trend in the GTA, where some police forces say more women have been killed by their domestic partners last year compared to previous years.

In 2019, the five police forces across the GTA received over 47,000 domestic-related calls.

Toronto police Superintendent Pauline Gray said there was definitely a rise in their numbers and it’s become a concern for them.

She added they don’t believe this is entirely reflective of the problem either, saying some victims don’t report their attackers.

“There are many possibly survivors who don’t look like what we thought, so we’re changing our approach to make sure all communities are getting information when it comes to domestic violence, or intimate partner violence,” said Supt. Gray.

Family and intimate partner violence by the numbers

Of the 31 homicides in Peel Region last year, 13 were domestic fatalities, the highest number to date. There were a total of 18,377 reports, including 10,818 intimate partner calls where 3,107 charges were laid. Of the 7,519 family violence calls, 963 charges were laid.

That’s approximately 50 calls a day spread out over five divisions.

Toronto police were called to 20,355 calls where the initial call type was labeled as domestic or domestic assault. They arrested over 4,483 people and 10,065 charges were laid in 2019.

Eight women were murdered by domestic partners in Toronto, up from three in 2018 and 0 in 2017.

In York region, police responded to 5,700 domestic-related incidents and 1,700 charges were laid. Of those charges, one was for first-degree murder, another for manslaughter and three were attempted murder. More than 1,200 of the charges were for assault.

York’s numbers relate only to intimate partner violence so their homicide numbers do not include the alleged killing of a mother, grandmother and sister by a 23-year-old man in Markham. He is facing four charges of first-degree murder, including the alleged killing of his father.

Durham Region had no domestic fatalities in 2019, but responded to 6,687 calls that were “domestic in nature.” Of those calls, 1,110 were violent in nature, majority of which were assaults while 13 per cent involved criminal harassment.

Halton police responded to 3,613 intimate partner domestic incidents, which resulted in 842 arrests and 1,548 criminal charges.

The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH) keeps a database of media reports of woman who have been murdered since 1990. According to their data, 37 women and children were murdered between Nov. 25, 2018 and Nov. 25, 2019.

In half of those murders, a male intimate partner was identified as the suspect and in another 30 per cent, a male family member (primarily a son) was identified as the suspect.

The average age of female victims has also grown, rising from 41 in 2016 to 53 in 2019.

Where can women get help?

The numbers of domestic violence are startling, but even worse are the resources available to those who experience intimate partner violence. Those numbers paint a picture of a problem that is outgrowing a system that experts say is already at capacity.

NISA Homes provides six transitional homes, including two in the GTA, for women and children who are immigrants, newcomers, or Muslim women across the country.

Yasmine Youssef, who oversees the homes, said in the month of December last year, they helped the same amount of women they helped in all of 2016. In 2016, they received 127 calls for help and in 2019, they received 980.

The number of women they have sheltered has also spiked from 43 in 2015 to 230 last year.

Youssef attributes this to growing awareness as more people are finding out about their services, including those from a population that faces barriers when trying to access life-saving resources.

“For immigrants and refugees, the first place they go is their religious center or closely after their community center. If the information isn’t available there, they don’t know how to access it,” said Youssef.

She adds finding counselling for women is also difficult, sometimes the wait times are six months to a year. “A lot of times they reach out for help before they need to leave their homes. And if they’re not given that help property, it escalates.”

NISA homes also has a wait list of women unable to find shelter elsewhere in Canada. “Most of the time they will either go couch-surfing or go back to their abusive partners,” said Youssef.

Shelter Voices, an annual survey that gives a snapshot of the demand for transition houses and shelters in Canada, states that nearly 80 per cent of women and kids who need space are turned away.

There are a range of barriers for women who are looking to leave a violent situation, as told by Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), who have called for a more streamlined system accessible to people looking to leave their abuser.

Executive Director of OAITH Marlene Ham said “we need a system that’s more responsive and aligned with another to provide support that she may need.”

The telephone service, 211, is also a 24-hour helpline and website that can connect people to community and government social services in over 150 languages.

Peel police working on a solution

Peel Regional Police recently launched a pilot project in 21 Division where uniformed police officers who respond to reports of domestic violence calls will then pass the file onto a group three core investigators of domestic violence.

“It’ll pinpoint and streamline how we can better use this particular initiative at our divisions to support these calls in order to support these types of calls,” said Peel police Const. Heather Cannon. “We’re looking to do this region wide.”

They are also distributing pamphlets in five different languages which provides details on what resources are available for victims of family or intimate partner violence.


Woman critically injured in North York stabbing

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Jan 23rd, 2020

A woman has suffered life-threatening injuries in a stabbing near York University.

Police say they were called to the area of Assiniboine Road and Evelyn Wiggins Drive just after 10 p.m.

Reports from the scene indicate the stabbing may have happened on a foot path leading away from one of the university’s parking lots.

A victim was located and rushed to a trauma centre by paramedics.

Police are searching for a male suspect who was seen fleeing the area armed with a knife.

He’s described as Asian, five-foot-11 with a slim build. He was last seen wearing a black jacket, pants and a hoodie with a backpack.

There has been no word on if the victim is a student at the university.

Police are unable to say if this was just a random attack.

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