Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Feb. 17

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The latest:

  • Provincial modelling says Quebec can cope with coronavirus variants if people follow the rules.
  • Toronto and Peel Region ask Ontario to keep them in lockdown at least 2 more weeks.
  • Vaccination rate is 6 times higher in Indigenous communities than in general population.
  • COVID-19 vaccination drive in U.S. hit by delays amid severe weather.
  • N.L. reports 44 new COVID-19 cases, with record number of tests.
  • Incomplete national data makes it hard to assess exactly how far along Canada is on vaccination.
  • In a world first, Britain OKs first challenge trial exposing volunteers to COVID-19.
  • Have a question about the coronavirus pandemic? Send your question to COVID@cbc.ca

The icy blast across much of the United States injected more confusion and frustration into its COVID-19 vaccination drive on Wednesday just when it was gathering speed, snarling vaccine deliveries and forcing the cancellation of countless shots around the country.

Across a large swath of the nation, including Deep South states such as Georgia and Alabama, the snowy, slippery weather either led to the closing of vaccination sites outright or held up the necessary shipments, with delays expected to continue for days.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said doses expected this week were delayed by weather elsewhere in the country, forcing the city to hold off making 30,000 to 35,000 vaccination appointments.

One public health expert said the delays were unacceptable.

“Having vaccine centres take snow days is just going to back things up more than they already are,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The virus doesn’t take snow days.”

Snow is cleared from taxiways at Nashville International Airport on Tuesday. Snowy, slippery weather is leading to a delay in vaccinations efforts across a large swath of the U.S. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean/The Associated Press)

Adalja said people in charge of vaccination efforts need to find ways to be more resilient to weather, “just like mailmen can deliver the mail through sleet or snow.” He suggested clinics use better contingency plans. The goal, he said, must be “a continuous assembly line of vaccines going into people’s arms.”

In Washington, White House COVID-19 co-ordinator Jeff Zients said: “People are working as hard as they can, given the importance of getting the vaccines to the states and to providers, but there is an impact on deliveries.”

He added that in places where vaccination sites are closed, such as Texas, the government is encouraging sites to increase their hours once they are open.

“We want to make sure that as we’ve lost some time in some states for people to get needles in arms, that our partners do all they can to make up that lost ground,” he said.

$1.4B boost for testing 

New figures from the White House show a steady increase in the pace of vaccinations over President Joe Biden’s first month in office. The U.S. is vaccinating an average of 1.7 million Americans per day against COVID-19, up from under one million a month ago.

Much of the increase, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from people receiving their second dose. The pace of first-dose vaccinations has been largely steady over the past several weeks, hovering around an average of 900,000 shots per day.

Biden is on track to blow past his goal of 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office — though the pace must pick up even further to meet his plans to vaccinate nearly all adults by the end of the summer.

Separately, the Biden administration said it will spend more than $1.4 billion US to boost testing supplies and co-ordination as U.S. officials aim to return more students to the classroom.

The White House says it will spend $815 million to increase U.S. manufacturing of testing supplies that have been subject to frequent shortages for months, including materials used in laboratories and for rapid point-of-care tests.

Officials also announced $650 million to set up regional testing “hubs” around the country to help co-ordinate testing at K-8 schools, universities, homeless shelters and other gathering places.

– From The Associated Press, last updated at 4 p.m. ET

WATCH | How susceptible are kids to COVID-19?:

Two pediatric infectious disease specialists answer viewer questions about COVID-19 including how susceptible children are to COVID-19 and if they are more likely to be asymptomatic. 6:54


What’s happening in Canada

As of 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had reported 834,187 cases of COVID-19, with 32,986 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 21,435.

The federal government says more than 83,000 vaccine doses against COVID-19 have been administered so far in more than 400 Indigenous communities.

Twenty-five per cent of adults in these communities have received at least one shot, a rate six times higher than the one for the general population, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said at a briefing Wednesday.

The minister noted there is an urgent need to vaccinate Indigenous communities quickly because fast-spreading new variants of COVID-19 could be particularly deadly in places where the housing stock is poor and multi-generational living is common.

Active cases in First Nations are continuing on a downward trend, with the number standing at 1,383 as of Tuesday, which is a quarter of active cases reported just under a month ago, Miller said.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials reported 44 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as well as 21 new presumptive positive cases. Testing numbers hit a new record of 2,573 people.

WATCH | Is Canada ready for a COVID-19 vaccine ramp-up?:

After weeks of delayed COVID-19 vaccine shipments, Canada is expected to see more doses start arriving this week. But there are concerns that the provinces aren’t ready to ramp up their vaccine rollouts. 2:01

The province had been a model of low coronavirus numbers until the mutation first identified in the United Kingdom, known as the B117 variant, flared up suddenly over the past week and a half. That prompted lockdowns and caused the province’s chief electoral officer to delay a general election, with ballots now to be submitted entirely by mail.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said neither indoor nor outdoor informal gatherings should take place because of how quickly the B117 variant can spread.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia each reported three new cases on Wednesday. Prince Edward Island has not provided an update but reported no new cases on Tuesday.

In Quebec, health officials reported 800 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 additional deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations stood at 766, with 130 COVID-19 patients in the province’s intensive care units.

WATCH | N.L.’s top doctor urges ‘strict adherence’ to public health measures:

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, says residents’ behaviour now will determine how well the province fares in beating back a sudden big spike in COVID-19 cases. 0:58

Radio-Canada has learned the mostly dormant Olympic Stadium is one of three east-end Montreal locations that will be used as part of Quebec’s mass vaccination campaign. The Big O was also used as a vaccination centre during the H1N1 flu pandemic.

On Tuesday, Premier François Legault announced a slight loosening of restrictions beginning Feb. 26, when the province heads into its March break. Cinemas will be allowed to reopen, he said, and swimming pools and arenas can open to groups of two or family bubbles.

Ontario health officials reported 847 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 10 more deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased by 23 for an overall total of 719, with small increases in the total number of patients being treated in intensive care units (298) and patients requiring ventilators (211).

The figures in Ontario, while higher than daily counts during the first wave, continued a downward trend since mid-January, when daily new cases peaked at about 4,000.

LISTEN | Quebec astronaut and doctor shares experience working in a COVID-19 unit:

The Current19:27Quebec astronaut David Saint-Jacques on trading his space suit for scrubs

Quebec’s David Saint-Jacques is familiar with isolation — as an astronaut, he spent seven months on the International Space Station. He’s also a doctor. Now, after more than 10 years away from medicine, he’s traded his space suit for scrubs and is working in a COVID-19 unit at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal. Matt Galloway speaks with Saint-Jacques about that transition. 19:27

In Toronto and Peel Region, officials asked the province to keep the regions in lockdown for at least two more weeks amid concerns about how coronavirus variants are spreading in the community.

“I have never been as worried about the future as I am today,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health. “While there is a downward trend in many key indicators, warning lights are flashing, too.”

WATCH | Specialist fears COVID-19 will roar back after reopenings:

Respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta says there should be more success demonstrated from lockdowns and vaccinations first before opening economies because coronavirus variants could contribute to a massive third wave. 2:13

Manitoba reported 76 new cases and one additional death on Wednesday. The province’s vaccine task force announced that Manitobans over the age of 95 will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting next week.

Saskatchewan reported 124 new cases and five new deaths on Wednesday. Premier Scott Moe has extended the province’s health order, set to expire Friday, into March.

Alberta reported 277 new cases and seven more deaths on Wednesday. There are 370 patients being treated in hospital for COVID-19, including 60 in ICU beds.

The pastor of an Edmonton-area church remains in police custody one day after his arrest for violating public health orders after repeatedly holding sermons exceeding the province’s indoor gathering limits.

WATCH | Edmonton pastor arrested for flouting gathering limits:

The pastor of GraceLife Church in Edmonton has been arrested for violating public health orders after repeatedly holding sermons exceeding Alberta’s indoor gathering limits. 1:27

British Columbia reported 427 new cases and three more deaths on Wednesday. Across the province, 232 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19, 63 of whom are in intensive care.

Earlier Wednesday, the chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court denied an application from the province for an injunction against three Fraser Valley churches regularly violating COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person services.

The judge said it is within the province’s power to escalate enforcement of standing public health orders and that it was up to the province, not the court, to do so.

The Northwest Territories reported six new cases, five of which are related to the Gahcho Kué Mine outbreak, on Wednesday. There are now 15 confirmed cases related to the outbreak at the mine, which is located about 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

Elsewhere in the North, Nunavut reported one new case on Wednesday, while Yukon reported no new cases.

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

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


What’s happening around the world 

Medical workers register residents for coronavirus testing at a testing centre in Shah Alam city, Malaysia, on Wednesday. (Vincent Thian/The Associated Press)

As of Wednesday evening, more than 109.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with 61.8 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.4 million.

In Europe, the EU commission has approved a new contract for 300 million additional doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. The second contract with Moderna provides for an additional purchase of 150 million in 2021 and an option to purchase an additional 150 million in 2022 on behalf of all 27 European Union member states. The deal also provides for the possibility of donating the vaccine to lower- and middle-income countries if the EU has enough supplies.

“With a portfolio of up to 2.6 billion doses, we will be able to provide vaccines not just to our citizens, but to our neighbours and partners as well,” said EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday they have finalized an agreement to supply the European Union with another 200 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine. The U.S. and German companies said in a statement that the doses come on top of the 300 million vaccine doses initially ordered. The EU’s executive commission has an option to request a further 100 million doses.

They said the 200 million doses are expected to be delivered this year, with an estimated 75 million of them in the second quarter.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the first of three so far to be approved for use in the EU, which faces criticism for a slow start to its vaccination campaign compared with countries such as Israel, Britain and the United States. The other two EU-approved vaccines are from Moderna and AstraZeneca.

A man receives a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus in a vaccination centre in Bayonne, southwestern France, on Wednesday. (Bob Edme/The Associated Press)

In the U.K., British regulators have approved the world’s first coronavirus human challenge trial, in which volunteers will be deliberately exposed to the virus to study how infection spreads. The aim is to develop more effective vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

The government said Wednesday that the U.K.’s clinical trials ethics regulator has approved the trial and it will start within a month. Researchers are seeking up to 90 volunteers aged 18 to 30, who will be exposed to COVID-19 “in a safe and controlled environment.” The study will try to determine the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection.

Young people are being asked to volunteer because they have the lowest risk of serious illness from the coronavirus. Participants in the study will be monitored 24 hours a day.

Meanwhile, in France, three out of four people in nursing homes for the elderly have received a COVID-19 vaccination shot, a government spokesperson said Wednesday.

In Spain, those arriving from Brazil and South Africa will be placed in quarantine for 10 days in a new bid to stem the spread of coronavirus variants from those countries.

In the Asia-Pacific region, months after other major economies, Japan has begun giving its first coronavirus vaccines to front-line health workers. Many are wondering if the campaign will reach enough people and be in time to save a Summer Olympics already delayed a year by the worst pandemic in a century.

Despite recent rising infections, Japan has largely dodged the kind of cataclysm that has battered other wealthy countries’ economies, social networks and health-care systems. But the fate of the Olympics, and the billions of dollars at stake should the Games fail, makes Japan’s vaccine campaign crucial. Japanese officials are also well aware that China, which has had success eradicating the virus, will host next year’s Winter Olympics, something that heightens the desire to make the Tokyo Games happen.

Health officials in India say cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa and Brazil have been found in India. They said Tuesday that the variant was detected in four travellers last month. More than 150 cases of another variant first detected in the United Kingdom have previously been found in India.

A woman receives her first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 in Mexico City earlier this week as the country began vaccinating people over 60 years of age. (Claudio Cruz/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Americas, Rio de Janeiro halted new vaccinations against COVID-19 for a week starting Wednesday due to a shortage of doses, one of a growing number of Brazilian cities that have run low on supplies and are demanding help from Brazil’s federal government.

El Salvador’s government said it will receive its first shipment of coronavirus vaccine from India on Wednesday. The country has recorded about 58,000 coronavirus infections and 1,758 deaths from COVID-19 so far in the pandemic.

In Africa, South Africa will administer its first vaccine as it inoculates health workers with the Johnson & Johnson shot as part of a research study.

Zimbabwe will begin vaccinating on Thursday, starting with health workers and other essential-service personnel.

In the Middle East, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the country will soon begin to ease restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus in provinces where infection rates are low.

In a televised speech following a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Erdogan said that, in March, Turkey’s provinces would be divided into four categories according to infection levels and the percentage of people who have been vaccinated. Restrictions, such as weekend lockdowns, would start to be lifted in regions where infections are tailing off.

Gaza received its first shipment of vaccines on Wednesday after Israel approved the transfer via its territory, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 5:45 p.m. ET



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