Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Feb. 16

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The latest:

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday that COVID-19 disease activity and severe outcomes are declining nationally. But she noted that at least four provinces had reported evidence of community spread and “outbreak activity” associated with faster-spreading variants.

Tam also said that new variants have now been detected in all 10 provinces. As of early Tuesday, she said, there were:

  • More than 540 cases of the B117 variant first detected in the U.K.
  • 33 cases of the B1351 variant first detected in South Africa.
  • One case of the P1 variant first detected in Brazil.

“The rapid rise of cases in a previously well-controlled situation in Newfoundland and Labrador is a testament to how quickly things can change when more contagious variants are introduced,” Tam said, adding that the “rapid” response from the province is what is needed to stop a variant of concern “in its tracks.”

A person wearing a mask bundles up in the aftermath of a snowstorm in Ottawa on Tuesday. New variants of the coronavirus have now been detected in all 10 provinces. (Brian Morris/CBC)

As of 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had reported 831,582 cases of COVID-19, with 33,972 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 21,397.

Quebec on Tuesday reported 669 additional COVID-19 cases, its lowest daily figure since Sept. 25, when there were 637 new cases. It also reported 20 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 771, with 134 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

At a late afternoon news conference, Premier François Legault laid out the rules for March break: Movie theatres can open and indoor sports will be allowed, but the rest of the province’s red-zone restrictions will stay in place in all but the Outaouais region.

“We have a few difficult weeks ahead of us,” Legault said. “Spring is coming. But if we want a beautiful spring, we have to be careful.”

Ontario reported 904 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 964 on Monday. The province didn’t provide updated figures on Monday due to the Family Day holiday.

The province also reported 13 deaths on Tuesday and 13 on Monday.

WATCH | Reopen Ontario very carefully to avoid another lockdown, expert advises:

Loosen restrictions and reopen schools very carefully in Ontario to avoid an unnecessary lockdown, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch. 2:45

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Ontario stood at 742, with 292 people in ICUs across the province.

Students in Toronto, as well as Peel and York regions, were slated to return to in-person learning on Tuesday after a period of remote learning, but winter weather prompted school closures in two of those boards.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 297, with one person in hospital. There are also 25 presumptive new cases, all in the Eastern Health region.

“You see enough cases, you’re gonna see hospitalizations. That is the sad fact of the matter,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Monday.

Fitzgerald urged people to follow public health guidance and cautioned that she expects “more cases in the days and weeks ahead.”

WATCH | COVID-19 outbreak puts strain on health care in Newfoundland and Labrador:

Hundreds of front-line workers in Newfoundland are in self isolation and it’s adding to the strain on the health-care system caused by a COVID-19 variant outbreak, which is now impacting every public health region on the island. 1:58

Health officials have identified more unlinked chains of transmission, she said, meaning that “COVID is among us and we need to be vigilant.” The province is increasing its testing and contact-tracing capacity, Fitzgerald said.

Across Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported three new cases and one new death on Tuesday, while Nova Scotia reported three new cases and Prince Edward Island reported no new cases.

WATCH | New Brunswick’s top doctor warns residents to restrict travel:

New Brunswick’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell expressed sympathy over Newfoundland and Labrador’s sudden jump in coronavirus cases and warned residents of her own province to restrict travel over March break to avoid a similar fate. 1:35

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 167 new cases and four new deaths over the past two days, after taking a break from reporting updated figures on the holiday Monday. 

Saskatchewan reported 136 new cases and three more deaths on Tuesday, as the government announced public health measures have been extended until at least March 19.

This means that indoor gatherings are still restricted to immediate household members only, while outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people with physical distancing between households.

Restrictions on sports, fitness, dance and places of worship will stay in place, as will mandatory masking. All non-essential interprovincial travel is not recommended.

Neighbouring Alberta reported 263 new cases and nine more deaths on Tuesday. There were 365 patients being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 56 in ICU beds.

Testing from Friday to Monday confirmed 50 additional cases of people infected with more contagious coronavirus variants. The province now has a total of 221 cases of the two variant strains first detected in the U.K. and South Africa.

In its first public update since Friday, British Columbia reported 1,533 new cases and 26 additional deaths over the past four days.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also provided an update on the spread of coronavirus variants of concern in the province. Officials have now confirmed 40 cases of the variant first identified in the U.K., 19 of the variant first identified in South Africa and one of a lesser known variant from Nigeria.

In the North, Nunavut reported five new cases on Tuesday. In a news release, the government said there are now 23 active cases in the territory, all of them in Arviat, a hamlet with a population of about 2,650.

Yukon and the Northwest Territories both reported no new cases on Tuesday.

WATCH | How ‘social prescribing’ is helping vulnerable populations during pandemic:

Toronto’s University Health Network has started using ‘social prescribing’ to help vulnerable populations at particular risk of COVID-19 by connecting them with financial help, free groceries and even housing. 2:06

Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:

– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:30 p.m. ET 


What’s happening around the world 

Attendees prepare for the web broadcast of the celebrations of the Venice carnival at Ca’ Vendramin Calergi headquarters of the Venice Casino on Monday. Venice is marking a second Carnival period upended by the pandemic. (Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

As of Tuesday evening, more than 109.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 61.5 million of those cases listed as recovered or resolved on a tracking site maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.4 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia’s regulator on Tuesday approved the AstraZeneca vaccine as its second for use against the coronavirus. Pfizer’s product will be available in Australia next week. It will be given in two doses three weeks apart, while AstraZeneca’s will be administered in two doses 12 weeks apart.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the regulator, found the AstraZeneca vaccine was safe and effective. Health Minister Greg Hunt said the vaccine will prevent serious COVID-19 illness.

Morrison will be vaccinated with the Pfizer product and Hunt with AstraZeneca in a demonstration of confidence in both vaccines.

Australia has procured 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and 50 million of those will be manufactured in Australia. The government has also secured 20 million Pfizer vaccines for a population of 26 million.

A medical worker stands inside the coronavirus vaccination centre at the Nair Hospital in Mumbai on Tuesday. (Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images)

India has detected four cases of the strain of the virus first identified in South Africa, a top government official said on Tuesday. The country has also detected the strain of the virus first identified in Brazil, Indian Council of Medical Research director general Balram Bhargava said.

In Africa, South Africa plans to share the one million AstraZeneca vaccine doses it received from the Serum Institute of India with other African countries via the African Union, a senior health official said on Tuesday. The country paused the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine this month, after preliminary trial data showed it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the country’s dominant coronavirus variant.

It plans to start inoculating health-care workers with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as soon as this week in a research study.

WATCH | Severe weather slows U.S. vaccination efforts:

Millions of Americans are without power after a winter storm hit the U.S. South and Midwest, forcing sites providing COVID-19 vaccines to shut down. 4:18

In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration says delays in vaccine shipments and deliveries are likely because of severe weather across parts of the country.

The administration says the weather is expected to affect shipments from a FedEx facility in Memphis, Tenn., and a UPS facility in Louisville, Ky. Both facilities serve as vaccine shipping hubs for multiple states.

Meanwhile, the administration is increasing coronavirus vaccine supplies sent to states to 13.5 million doses per week. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that represents a 57 per cent increase from when Biden took office nearly a month ago on Jan. 20.

Psaki also said the administration is doubling, to two million doses per week, the amount of vaccine being sent to pharmacies across the country as part of a program to extend access into neighbourhoods.

Mexico began the task of vaccinating millions of senior citizens, with dozens of Mexicans over 60 years old waiting in line for hours because of delays in administering shots.

Colombia will begin vaccinations on Wednesday following the arrival of its first vaccines, which are from Pfizer.

A soldier prepares to vaccinate a man at a Boston clinic on Tuesday. Massachusetts National Guard soldiers and airmen have been loaned to help vaccinate the public. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

Coronavirus case numbers are stabilizing in parts of the Middle East, but the situation remains critical, with more than a dozen countries reporting cases of new variants, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday.

Ahmed al-Mandhari, director of WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region, which comprises most of the Middle East, said in a press briefing from Cairo that at least one of the three new coronavirus variants was reported in the 13 countries in the region. He did not name the countries. All three of the new variants are more contagious, according to WHO.

Al-Mandhari said there are nearly six million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the region and about 140,000 deaths. The WHO said 6.3 million vaccinations have been administered in 12 countries in the eastern Mediterranean and urged people to continue taking precautionary measures against the virus.

Al-Mandhari said 37,000 coronavirus vaccine doses from the global COVAX initiative will arrive in the Palestinian territories and 94,000 should arrive in Tunisia in the coming weeks. The program seeks to provide vaccines to developing nations.

WATCH | The challenges, criticisms and success of Israel’s record-setting vaccine rollout:

Israel is leading the world with its COVID-19 vaccine rollout and it’s already seeing results, but the campaign has been met with some hesitant demographics and criticism for not vaccinating Palestinians. 6:05

Overall, the number of new coronavirus cases in the region has stabilized, despite increases in some Gulf nations and Lebanon, he said.

Lebanon has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the region in recent weeks, with hospitals working at near maximum capacity amid a nationwide lockdown. Lebanon began a vaccination campaign Sunday.

The country of six million people, including a million Syrian refugees, has confirmed nearly 340,000 cases.

Iran remains the eastern Mediterranean country with the highest number of confirmed cases at about 1.5 million.

A woman flashes a victory sign as she receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a nationwide vaccination campaign at the Saint George Hospital in Beirut on Tuesday. (Hussein Malla/The Associated Press)

In Europe, the European Medicines Agency says it has received a request from Johnson & Johnson for its one-shot coronavirus vaccine to be authorized. In a statement on Tuesday, the Amsterdam-based medicines regulator for the European Union said it could issue an opinion by the middle of March, provided that company “data on the vaccine’s efficacy, safety and quality are sufficiently comprehensive.”

It is the fourth COVID-19 vaccine to seek approval in the EU. Earlier shots made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca were all given the green light. But unlike those vaccines, the J&J vaccine requires only a single dose.

Preliminary results from a large trial in the U.S., Latin America and South Africa suggested the company’s vaccine was safe and offered strong protection against moderate to severe COVID-19. The shot is also being vetted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whose expert panel will meet on Feb. 26 to publicly debate the vaccine’s data.

A Dutch court ordered the government on Tuesday to end the curfew it imposed last month to rein in the spread of the coronavirus, saying the ruling coalition was not entitled to use emergency powers to enforce the restrictive measure.

The government of the Netherlands immediately appealed and asked the court to suspend the order prohibiting the curfew. A hearing into the request to suspend the order was halted after just a few minutes when a member of the group that sought to overturn the curfew accused the presiding judge of bias.

The full appeal hearing was scheduled for Friday. Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged the public to continue staying home during the 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew hours pending the result of the appeal.

Police officers patrol a street along Leidse Square in Amsterdam on Jan. 23. The emergency curfew put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was the first in the Netherlands since the Second World War. (Sabine van Wechem/Getty Images)

Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said the coronavirus variant first reported in Britain represents nearly half of analyzed cases in the country during the second week of February.

Heunicke posted on his Twitter account on Tuesday that he understands the growing need to reopen the country, but “we need to follow the plan of gradual steps so that we maintain epidemic control.”

Earlier this month, Danish schools resumed in-class teaching of kids from preschool to the fourth grade amid a steady decrease of COVID-19 infections. Denmark in December extended restrictions that shuttered all shops except food stores and pharmacies and put a ban on public gatherings of more than five people.

A shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine produced in China arrived in Hungary on Tuesday morning, making the country the first in the European Union to receive a Chinese vaccine. A jet carrying 550,000 doses of the vaccine, developed by the Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, landed in Budapest after flying from Beijing.

The shipment is enough to treat 275,000 people with the two-dose vaccine, head of the Epidemiology Department of the National Public Health Center, Dr. Agnes Galgoczy, said at a press conference.

Hungary expects to receive five million total doses of the Sinopharm vaccine over the next four months. The country has sought to purchase vaccines from countries outside the EU’s common procurement program, claiming that delays in the bloc’s rollout is costing lives.

– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7 p.m. ET





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