Britain halts flights from South Africa after finding another new coronavirus strain

The latest:

Britain’s transport minister has ordered flights and arrivals from South Africa to be halted after a potentially more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spread to Britain.

“I’ve taken the decision to temporarily stop flights and arrivals entering England from South Africa from 9 a.m. tomorrow following an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus,” British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

Earlier on Wednesday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock says scientists have identified another new variant of the coronavirus in two people, both of whom are contacts of recent arrivals from South Africa.

Hancock said the evidence gathered so far suggests that the new variant has “mutated further” than the one that recently prompted the British government to tighten restrictions across large parts of England and led to many countries imposing travel bans on the U.K.

WATCH | Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be modified to tackle variants, says expert:

According to infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla, vaccines that use mRNA technology can be reverse engineered quite quickly to take on variants — such as the recent U.K. variant of the coronavirus. 1:42

The health secretary also announced that more areas in England would be placed into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of a more transmissible variant of COVID-19.

Hancock said beginning Dec. 26, large regions across southern England would join London and neighbouring areas in Tier 4 with restrictions similar to that of a lockdown.


What’s happening in Canada

On Wednesday, Health Canada approved Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in this country, clearing the way for thousands of doses to arrive by month’s end. Moderna’s is the second COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by Health Canada.

Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is committing another $70 million to the Canadian Red Cross as it faces growing demand for help from long-term care facilities in Ontario and Quebec that have been overwhelmed by the pandemic.

Trudeau also announced Canada was extending a ban on flights from Britain for another two weeks until Jan. 6 as the United Kingdom struggles with a new strain of COVID-19 that experts suggest is more contagious than other variants.

As of 6:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 528,354, with 75,305 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,597.

British Columbia registered 518 new COVID-19 cases and 19 additional deaths on Wednesday. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presented new epidemiological models on Wednesday that show the second wave of the pandemic has begun to slow in response to restrictive new measures limiting social gatherings and events.

“We have bent our curve slightly. We are now perhaps on a downward trajectory,” said Henry.

A person wearing a face mask is seen in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Alberta announced 1,301 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 more deaths.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, on Wednesday said Alberta’s steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools are working, and case numbers suggest students are more often getting sick outside their classrooms.

Hinshaw said new case numbers among elementary, junior and senior high students roughly tripled from the beginning of November to the end of the month, then plateaued and have fallen over the past few weeks.

WATCH | Scene from weekend rallies held in Calgary:

Calgarians took to the streets on Dec. 19 and 20 to protest COVID-19 restrictions. 0:50

Saskatchewan announced 159 new COVID-19 infections and five new deaths.

Manitoba reported 201 new cases and 15 more deaths.

Ontario registered 2,408 new cases, its second-highest single-day tally, and 41 new deaths. There were 1,002 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, including a record 275 in intensive care. The entire province will be moving into lockdown after midnight on Dec. 26.

Paramedics take away an elderly patient at the Tendercare Living Centre in Toronto amid an outbreak at the long-term care home. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Hard-hit Quebec recorded 2,247 new cases of COVID-19, another daily high. Hospitalizations stood at 1,067, with 142 patients in Quebec’s intensive care units, according to provincial data.

New Brunswick saw five new cases. Meanwhile, vaccinations for health-care workers began in Moncton.

Newfoundland and Labrador added one new caseNova Scotia added four.

WATCH | N.S. business supports charities through mask sales:

Sherrie Kearney of Maritime Tartan has made more than 18,000 masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and donated thousands to charity. Their latest fundraiser includes a tie signed by Dr. Robert Strang, who just gave them a big shout-out. 4:30

Prince Edward Island announced it is making a new mental health and addictions resource available to Islanders online. Demand for access to mental health services has been a pressing topic on P.E.I. throughout the pandemic, with the number of Islanders consulting mental health professionals doublingthe closure of the psychiatric unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and challenges faced by those struggling with addictions. 

In the North, officials welcomed news of the Moderna vaccine’s approval. Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are expected to receive shipments by the end of the month, and plan to start rolling out vaccinations in early January.


What’s happening around the world

As of early Wednesday, more than 78.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 44.1 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.

In Europe, Italy recorded another 14,522 new positive coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the last day before more severe restrictions take effect for the Christmas holidays.

Despite measures that have been in place since late October, Italy has yet to successfully flatten the curve of the fall resurgence.

Starting Thursday, Italians will have to fill out declarations of their reasons for leaving home, just like during the strict 10-week lockdown in the spring. The holiday restrictions, running through Jan. 6, give some leeway for visiting friends and relatives in the same region.

People wearing face masks are seen in Rome on Wednesday. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

In Asia, South Korea has added 1,092 new coronavirus cases in a resurgence that is erasing hard-won epidemiological gains and eroding public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the outbreak.

The national caseload has jumped by a quarter in the last two weeks alone, the death toll is rising and the number of sick patients is raising concerns of a shortage in intensive care beds.

South Korea had been seen as a success story against COVID-19 after health workers managed to contain a major outbreak in its southeastern region in the spring. But critics say the country gambled on its own success by easing physical-distancing restrictions to help the economy.

People are seen at a COVID-19 testing site in Seoul on Wednesday. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images)

In Africa, South Africa’s health minister says the country has seen more than 14,000 confirmed new coronavirus cases in the past day, with a positivity rate of 26 per cent, as overall cases edge toward 1 million.

Heath Minister Zwelini Mkhize says the “alarming rate of spread” of infections is much faster than during the first wave in midyear. His daily report doesn’t say how many of the new infections are attributed to the new variant of the virus in South Africa.

The country has more than 950,000 confirmed cases, including more than 25,000 deaths. More than 400 people have died in the past day.

People are seen at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Tuesday. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

In the Americas, Peru has passed one million confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. It is the fifth nation in Latin America to report that number as the region struggles with the pandemic’s economic and health effects.

Peru’s government was quick to declare lockdown measures for its 32 million people last March as the pandemic spread in Europe. But in spite of closing its airports for almost six months and ordering most of its residents to stay at home, it has struggled to contain the virus. Officials said they had recorded 1,000,153 cases as of Tuesday evening.

More than 37,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Peru. That gives the Andean nation the world’s second-highest per-capita death toll from the pandemic, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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