Variant more transmissible and infectious

The B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus was first detected in early December 2020 in Kent, a county in southeast England. It has since spread globally with four cases currently detected in Thunder Bay District. 

By Ian Pattison

On Wednesday, for the first time, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit began including COVID-19 variants of concern in its daily briefing. The first case of the B.1.1.7 variant appeared here on March 12 and now there are four. It seems that this mutation is here to stay for a while, and since it is more transmissible and more infectious than the original strain we can expect more serious cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths because of it.

This past week alone, five people have died here from Covid; 22 in the month of March. The health unit isn’t saying whether any of those were caused by variants. Throughout the entire year-long pandemic there have been 53 deaths so the mortality of this virus is gaining on us and on our ability to get enough people vaccinated to rob Covid of enough hosts to thrive.

District medical health officer, Dr. Janet DeMille, conceded that variants are expected to begin increasing about two weeks from now. That will drive the caseload higher and “on the horizon, there is very much a risk of a third wave.”

Variants now account for 67 per cent of all cases in the province and are having substantial impact on the health-care system. A report from Ontario’s science table reveals that there is a 63-per-cent increased risk of hospitalization, a 103-per-cent increased risk of intensive care unit (ICU) admission and a 56-per-cent increased risk of death from the variants.

There is added alarm in that variants are driving a rise in hospitalizations involving younger people. At the pandemic’s outset the danger was primarily to seniors which brought concerted efforts to inoculate all elderly. But not all elederly are getting the shots set aside for them.

Nearly 200,000 Ontarians 80 and older have not signed up which caused the government to open up access to the 75-plus age group earlier than planned.

Many seniors harbour some fear about the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. A succession of contradictory statements from the manufacturer and from government agencies have hurt public confidence in all vaccines and given anti-vaxxers a gift.

The latest practice is to restrict AstraZeneca to those under 55 in response to reports that some three dozen patients in Europe, primarily younger women, developed blood clots after receiving the vaccine. No connection has been found.

Thunder Bay residents 70 and up are being given either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine at the health unit’s CLE Coliseum clinics. Three city pharmacies (Oak, Dawson Heights and Shoppers Red River) and ones in Fort Frances, Dryden and Kenora, are now offering AstraZeneca vaccinations to those 55 and up. So there appears to be no cause for concern.

What is concerning is the province’s decision Thursday to essentially replicate the still somewhat permissive Lockdown status currently in effect in most Ontario health units, including Thunder Bay, but calling it a “shutdown” for 28 days.

The Ontario government still doesn’t get it. Half-measures will only prolong our anxiety. We can’t, for example, allow non-essential retailers to remain open, even at the prescribed 25-per-cent capacity, with case counts and ICU admissions rising and variants spreading while inoculation rates fall farther behind the spread.

A group of 153 ICU physicians, including several from Thunder Bay Regional, sent a letter to Premier Ford Thursday saying that to allow the spread of variants by too-lax restrictions is “unethical.” They wrote: "As ICU doctors, we are the last line of defence, and we are ringing the alarm bell. Please hear it."

This is happening with the arrival of the Easter long weekend. With sunshine and double-digit temperatures in the forecast, the urge to throw off the restraints of Covid isolation will be strong. Don’t do it. Hang in there for a while yet, until the vaccination rate catches up to the infection rate. Canada is now two million vaccine doses ahead of the original delivery schedule so there is room for optimism.

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Dumb, dumb, dumb. Not dum-de-dum as in a silly tune, but dumb as in stupid, as in CBC’s decision to dump Randy Bachman’s popular Vinyl Tap program.

Who among the boomer generation -- nearly 30 per cent of Canada’s population -- hasn’t spent at least part of a weekend night listening to one of Canada’s rock icons spin tales about songs on a variety of themes? Canada Day’s last broadcast will end a 16-year run of infinite knowledge of the soundtrack of a generation by a guy who’s lived it, as a member of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Bachman said he was shocked to learn he was being let go from the 11th-most popular slot in CBC Music’s 24/7 schedule.

It doesn’t make sense. There is a large cohort that adores its musical upbringing. Why alienate them? Beyond Canada, Bachman has a global audience in the millions on Sirius XM satellite radio. Which could be where Vinyl Tap ends up.

Digital Review sees in Vinyl Tap “an interesting and derivative example of mainstream broadcasting. The program is kind of like what it would feel like if your friend who happens to be a world-famous globe-trotting guitarist comes into your home and tells you about his adventures in the star-making machinery that is the business of show . . . .

“The result is an entertaining and vivacious radio cocktail which informs, delights and educates the listener while simultaneously entertaining the audience with great popular music and revealing anecdotes about the quirky personalities who struggle to make a mark upon the human zeitgeist that is the hit parade.”

I reached out to old friend and former well-known local DJ Larry Hennessey who currently hosts the vinyl-based ‘80s music show JACK Up The 80's heard on JACK 96.9 in Vancouver, for his take:

“Randy Bachman is an incredible story teller with a lifetime of musical adventures to relate.

It's an interesting thing that the CBC would choose to move on from this show which is in the top ten of their music-oriented programming shows.

“It may be an issue of cost with not only compensation for Mr. Bachman, who is constantly ‘Takin' Care Of Business,’ but with music rights that CBC must pay to the artists involved in the music he features . . .

“Perhaps Sirius XM would be interested in picking up his entertaining stories. I am not sure any of the private broadcasters would be interested in today's climate but I would love them to prove me wrong!”

What millions of listeners would love is for CBC to see the mistake it has made, apologize to Randy Bachman and reverse its dumb decision to send him and his vinyl packing.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.