What’s happening now
Mental health study shows Albertans feeling less empathetic towards others than at start of pandemic
A mental health study conducted throughout the pandemic shows a concerning drop in empathy among Albertans since two years ago, after the first wave of COVID-19 infections.
The Canadian Mental Health Association and researchers at the University of British Columbia have conducted a series of surveys during the pandemic to monitor Canadians’ mental health at various stages. Results of the most recent survey show 14 per cent of Albertans are feeling empathetic, as opposed to 29 per cent of Albertans surveyed in May 2020 — a decline of 15 per cent.
Alberta isn’t the only place in the country where this is documented. Overall, 13 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they feel empathetic now, while 23 per cent said they were feeling empathetic at the onset of the pandemic.
Setback for Shanghai’s COVID battle as Beijing ramps up mass testing
China’s commercial capital of Shanghai was dealt a blow on Monday as authorities reported 58 new COVID-19 cases outside areas under strict lockdown, while Beijing pressed on with testing millions of people on a May Day holiday few were celebrating.
Tough coronavirus curbs in Shanghai have stirred rare public anger, with millions of the city’s 25 million people stuck indoors for more than a month, some sealed inside fenced-off residential compounds and many struggling for daily necessities.
While Shanghai officials said the situation is improving, images on social media have unnerved the public at a time when hospitals and mortuaries in the city are overwhelmed.
On Monday, authorities said they were investigating five officials after videos showed a local care home transferring an elderly person in a body bag to a mortuary. The person was later found to be still alive.
Shanghai residents breathed a sigh of relief over the weekend at news that no cases had been confirmed outside areas under lockdown for two days, but disappointment came on Monday with the report of the 58 new infections among people who are allowed to move more freely around the city.
COVID’s new Omicron sub-lineages can dodge immunity from past infection: study
Two new sublineages of the Omicron coronavirus variant can dodge antibodies from earlier infection well enough to trigger a new wave, but are far less able to thrive in the blood of people vaccinated against COVID-19, South African scientists have found.
The scientists from multiple institutions were examining Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages – which the World Health Organization last month added to its monitoring list. They took blood samples from 39 participants previously infected by Omicron when it first showed up at the end of last year.
Fifteen were vaccinated – eight with Pfizer’s shot; seven with J&J’s — while the other 24 were not.
“The vaccinated group showed about a 5-fold higher neutralization capacity … and should be better protected,” said the study, a pre-print of which was released over the weekend.
In the unvaccinated samples, there was an almost eightfold decrease in antibody production when exposed to BA.4 and BA.5, compared with the original BA.1 Omicron lineage. Blood from the vaccinated people showed a threefold decrease.
South Africa may be entering a fifth COVID wave earlier than expected, officials and scientists said on Friday, blaming a sustained rise in infections that seems to be driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants.
Only about 30 per cent of South Africa’s population of 60 million is fully vaccinated.
CBE facing teacher shortages as substitutes can’t cover every absence
Calgary schools continue to face staffing shortages as substitutes often don’t fill every absence across the city, according to numbers from the city’s largest school board.
A recent letter from the administration of Colonel Irvine School in northwest Calgary informed parents the school was having difficulties filling daily absences from its staff. As a result, physical education teachers were filling in different classrooms leading to gym classes being consolidated. The letter said the school’s specialized literacy program was facing the largest disruptions from the shortages.
“We would like to apologize to all students impacted by this. Each day we have to decide if class will run until we know the staff we have each day and we understand this is not ideal and can be stressful for the students. We encourage students to continue with their home reading,” says the letter.
Teachers have been covering other classes during their preparation periods as the shortages at Colonel Irvine are the worst they have been in the past two years, the letter indicates.
COVID-19 is killing fewer people, but Quebec still reporting dozens of deaths daily
MONTREAL — Percylla Battista said she last spoke to her sister, Maggie Quart Robitaille, a week before Quart Robitaille tested positive for COVID-19.
“She was feeling pretty good,” Battista said in a recent interview. “She didn’t think she would get COVID because she had already been vaccinated four times.”
But on April 13, Quart Robitaille died at age 82, less than two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19. She was among the 3,325 people reported to have died in the province from the novel coronavirus since the Omicron wave started in mid-December.
While vaccination and improved treatment have made COVID-19 less deadly, Quebec reported Saturday that there have been 15,000 deaths attributed to the pandemic in the province — the most in Canada. Quebec’s death rate also remains the highest in the country, at 174 deaths per 100,000 people. In Ontario, there have been 86 deaths per 100,000 people. Across Canada, there have been 102.
South Africa’s Aspen COVID-19 vaccine plant risks closure after no orders: executive
JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccination plant, touted last year as a trailblazer for an under-vaccinated continent frustrated by sluggish Western handouts, risks shutting down after receiving not a single order, a company executive said on Saturday.
South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare negotiated a licensing deal in November to package and sell Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it across Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) called the deal a “transformative moment” in the drive towards leveling stark inequalities in access to COVID vaccines.
With only a sixth of adults in Africa fully vaccinated, according to the latest WHO figures from the end of March, Aspen’s agreement to sell an Aspen-branded COVID-19 vaccine, Aspenovax, throughout Africa seemed like a sure bet.
UN chief calls for debt relief, post-COVID investment on West Africa trip
DAKAR — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday urged debt relief for African countries and more investment to help their economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and weather the impacts of the Ukraine war.
The United Nations chief spoke in Senegal on the first leg of a trip that will also include Niger and Nigeria, where he will visit communities affected by conflict and climate change.
Supply disruptions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have caused simultaneous food, energy and finance crises in Africa and beyond, Guterres said.
The coronavirus pandemic pushed many poor countries into debt distress and the Ukraine war has disrupted their economic recovery, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Public debt ratios in sub-Saharan Africa are at their highest in more than two decades, the IMF said last week.