The two hardest-hit provinces in Canada reported new single-day high COVID-19 numbers on Wednesday, with 2,923 new cases in Ontario and 2,511 in Quebec.
Health officials in Ontario also reported 19 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,474. Hospitalizations increased to 1,177, with 323 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
The record-high figure in Ontario on Wednesday was reported after the province’s finance minister came under fire for travelling to the Caribbean for a vacation. Rod Phillips said in a statement Tuesday night that he left for a trip to St. Barts on Dec. 13 after the end of the legislative session.
Ontario, which went into lockdown on Dec. 26, is advising against non-essential travel.
Premier Doug Ford said in a statement that he told Phillips his decision to travel was “completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated again — by him or any member of our cabinet and caucus.”
“I have also told the minister I need him back in the country immediately.”
Phillips said in his statement that he deeply regrets travelling over the holidays.
“It was a mistake, and I apologize,” his statement said. “I am making arrangements to return to Ontario immediately and will begin a 14-day quarantine as soon as I arrive.”
WATCH | Phillips to return to Ontario after backlash:
Ontario’s finance minister isn’t the only politician facing criticism over holiday travel — Quebec Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand is apologizing after travelling to Barbados, while Coalition Avenir Québec MNA Youri Chassin says he left for Peru to be with his spouse, who lives there and whom he hadn’t seen for nearly a year.
Quebec reported 41 additional deaths on Wednesday, bringing the provincial death toll to 8,165.
According to a provincial dashboard, hospitalizations in Quebec stood at 1,211, with 152 COVID-19 patients in ICUs.
In British Columbia, health officials say the number of cases linked to a ski resort outbreak near Kelowna has now ballooned to 111.
In the Prairies, Manitoba registered 130 new cases and two additional deaths; Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province will fall far short of the government’s promise to vaccinate 29,000 people by the end of the year; and Saskatchewan announced 147 new cases and three more deaths.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick added one new case; Prince Edward Island announced two, both travel-related; Nova Scotia recorded three; and Newfoundland and Labrador‘s active caseload remains at 18 after reporting no new infections.
In the North, the first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Nunavut on Wednesday on a scheduled Canadian North flight, although it will be another week before the territory announces details on how the vaccine will be distributed.
As of 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 571,210, with 73,193 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,442.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across Canada:
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 3:15 p.m. ET
What’s happening across the U.S.
A new variant of the coronavirus that may be more contagious has been found in a Colorado man who had not been travelling, triggering a host of questions about how the first U.S. case of the new version showed up in the Rocky Mountain state.
The new variant was first identified in England, and infections are soaring now in Britain, where the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has surpassed the first peak of the outbreak in the spring. The new variant has also been found in several other countries, including Canada.
The U.S. has seen more than 19.5 million cases of COVID-19 and recorded more than 338,000 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool.
In hard-hit California, the state’s top health official said hospitals in Los Angeles County are turning to “crisis care” and bracing for the coronavirus surge to worsen in the new year.
Dr. Mark Ghaly’s comment came Tuesday as he extended strict stay-home orders in areas where intensive care units have few beds.
Ghaly said Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley have virtually no ICU capacity to treat COVID-19 patients. Some overwhelmed hospitals don’t have space to unload ambulances or get oxygen to patients who can’t breathe, he said.
The state’s “crisis care” guidelines allow for rationing treatment when staff, medicine and supplies are in short supply.
California reported more than 31,000 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday and 242 deaths. Nearly 25,000 people in the state have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:30 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Wednesday, more than 82.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been recorded worldwide, with more than 46.5 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins. The global death toll was approaching 1.8 million.
World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday the COVAX initiative — a program to help get coronavirus vaccines to all countries — needs $4 billion US “urgently” to buy vaccines.
WATCH | WHO calls for equitable vaccine access:
In Europe, the United Kingdom extended its highest tier of restrictions to three-quarters of England’s population. Also Wednesday, the U.K. became the first country to approve the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine.
In Asia, China’s National Health Commission is encouraging tens of millions of migrant workers not to travel home during February’s Lunar New Year holiday to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Authorities are carrying out a campaign to vaccinate 50 million people before the holiday.
In the Americas, Brazil will soon weigh emergency-use approval for AstraZeneca’s vaccine after Britain gave the green light on Wednesday. Rio de Janeiro-based Fiocruz has agreed to import and bottle some 100 million doses by June and eventually produce the vaccine locally.
In Africa, Zimbabwe has postponed the reopening of schools planned for next week due to a surge in coronavirus infections and a tropical storm sweeping through the region. A teachers’ union earlier petitioned the courts to stop the reopenings, saying it was not safe for students to return to class.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 2 p.m. ET