Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Feb. 23

The latest:

Drug maker Johnson & Johnson says it will be able to provide 20 million doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine to the U.S. government by the end of March, assuming it gets the green light from federal regulators.

J&J disclosed the figure ahead of a Congressional hearing on Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J’s vaccine would be limited.

The company reiterated that it will have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June. That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans later this year. On a global scale, the company aims to produce one billion doses this year.

U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiveness of the shot and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected later this week. J&J’s vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot.

Canada has an agreement with J&J for up to 38 million doses of its vaccine. Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Tuesday that Canada is ready to deploy the vaccine from J&J’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, once it receives regulatory approval from Health Canada — but she couldn’t say how many shots will be available in the coming weeks.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses spaced weeks apart. Executives from both companies and two other vaccine makers will also testify at Tuesday’s hearing.

The U.S. has seen more recorded cases of COVID-19 than any other country in the world, with more than 28.1 million recorded cases. President Joe Biden on Monday described the death toll, which surpassed 500,000, as a “truly grim, heartbreaking milestone.”

Biden urged Americans to resist becoming “numb to the sorrow” and “viewing each life as a statistic.” The people lost were “extraordinary,” the president said, noting that “to heal, we must remember.”

WATCH | Biden talks about lives lost as U.S. COVID-19 death toll surpasses 500,000:

U.S. President Joe Biden said the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate between Democrats and Republicans during a televised address ahead of a candle-lighting ceremony honouring the 500,000 people who have died as a result of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. 1:42

What’s happening across Canada

As of 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had reported 852,274 cases of COVID-19, with 30,677 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 21,762.

Speaking at a briefing on Tuesday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said “disease activity and severe outcomes continue to decline” nationally. Tam said that as of Tuesday, Canada had reported:

  • 780 cases of the B117 variant.
  • 39 cases of the B1351 variant.
  • One case of the P1 variant.

Tam said Canada is doing well, but cautioned that things could change rapidly — citing the recent uptick in cases in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, issued a public health order expanding the number of health professions able to administer a COVID-19 vaccine. Dentists, midwives, pharmacy technicians and retired nurses are now among those who will be able to join the vaccination workforce over the next six months.

The province reported 559 new cases of COVID-19 and one related death on Tuesday. The number of new cases reported daily in B.C. has been on an upward trend in recent weeks, to the point where the number of active cases and the seven-day rolling average of new cases are at their highest point in a month.

Alberta reported 267 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, along with 11 related deaths.

Saskatchewan announced 122 new COVID-19 cases and four related deaths on Tuesday. The province also reported its first cases of coronavirus variants with no links to travel.

Health officials said the variant first identified in the United Kingdom was found in two residents in the Regina area. The variant from South Africa was also discovered in the province’s north central region, and public health is still investigating.

Officials also say there is a presumptive case of the B117 variant in an acute care patient transferred to Saskatoon from out of province.

Manitoba reported 76 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The update comes after the province announced new, aggressive rules to manage COVID-19 cases and close contacts amid fears about extremely contagious variants at the same time as it eases its months-long lockdown.

Instead of 15 minutes, people will be considered contacts of a case — and be required to undergo testing and self-isolation — if they have been in close range of an infection for 10 minutes.

The province is also ending an exemption that allowed some household members of a positive case to avoid self-isolation. Going forward, everyone in the same home as a positive case will have to self-isolate and get tested.

WATCH | Manitoba tightens health rules to curb growth of coronavirus variants:

Manitoba’s new definition of a close contact and revised isolation rules around COVID-19 are a good way to help get a very contagious infectious disease under control, says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and member of Ontario’s Vaccine Distribution Task Force. 2:47

Health officials in Ontario reported 975 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 additional deaths on Tuesday. Hospitalizations stood at 718, with 283 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across the province.

Quebec reported 739 new cases of COVID-19 and 13 additional deaths on Tuesday. The province’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign is also starting to ramp up, with Quebecers 84 and older in the general population able to get shots as early as next week.

Premier François Legault made the announcement during Tuesday afternoon’s COVID-19 briefing from Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The atrium of the stadium, once home to the Montreal Expos, has been converted into a vaccination site.

The pace of the province’s vaccination efforts has garnered criticism, including from Ottawa, and last month’s drastic reduction in the number of doses delivered from Pfizer-BioNTech didn’t help matters.

In Atlantic Canada, there were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Prince Edward Island on Tuesday. New Brunswick also reported no new COVID-19 cases in the province for the first time in more than two months.

Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, an update published to a provincial dashboard said. The number of active cases in the province stood at 372, with five people in hospital.

In Nunavut, the hamlet of Arviat is declaring a local state of emergency beginning Wednesday amid a rising wave of COVID-19 cases months after it seemed the community had eradicated the disease. Health authorities have recorded 86 cases of COVID-19 since Jan. 22, when a second wave of diagnoses began.

Under the state of emergency, the community will have a strict curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day. Businesses will be provided with personal protective equipment to minimize the risk of spreading the disease. People breaking curfew will be reported to the RCMP for violating public health orders.

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


What’s happening around the world

Senegal’s Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr gets vaccinated during the official launch of the vaccination campaign in Dakar on Thursday. (Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 111.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 63.1 million of those cases listed as resolved on a tracking site maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.4 million — with more than 500,000 of those deaths in the U.S. alone.

In Europe, new COVID-19 regulations took effect Tuesday in Poland that lift quarantine requirements for people entering the country who have certificates of having been inoculated against the virus with a European Union-approved vaccine.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face covering, sits in front of a laptop computer as he takes part in an online lesson during his visit to Sedgehill School in southeast London on Tuesday. (Jack Hill/AFP/Getty Images)

Also, kindergarten children, elementary pupils and persons taking care of them, as well as researchers studying in Poland or in a neighbouring country, are exempt from the 10-day quarantine. The government regulations published Monday night also allow people to visit health spas if they test negative no more than six days before arrival.

The U.K. unemployment rate rose for a sixth straight month in December as renewed coronavirus restrictions shut down most businesses across the country. The Office for National Statistics said Tuesday that unemployment rose to 5.1 per cent in December, up 0.1 per cent from the previous month and 1.3 per cent from a year earlier. The number of people on company payrolls has dropped by 726,000 since the pandemic began last February, with 58.5 per cent of the decline coming among people under 25.

The figures don’t show the full impact of COVID-19 restrictions on employment because some 1.9 million workers remain on furlough. A government program covers 80 per cent of their wages.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced plans to slowly end a national lockdown in England in hopes of safely reopening the economy and social life as infection rates drop and widespread vaccinations reduce the threat from COVID-19.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippine president will reject recommendations to further ease coronavirus quarantine restrictions until a delayed vaccination campaign kicks off, his spokesperson said.

A health worker checks inside a box containing mock COVID-19 vaccines during a mock vaccination drill at the Philippine General Hospital last week in Manila. (Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

President Rodrigo Duterte also rejected a plan to resume face-to-face school classes in some pilot areas until vaccinations, which have been set back by delays in the arrival of initial batches of COVID-19 vaccine, have been launched, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

The scheduled delivery on Tuesday of 600,000 doses from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. was postponed anew after the China-based company failed to immediately secure an emergency-use permit from Manila’s Food and Drug Administration. Sinovac got the authorization Monday.

Top economic officials have asked Duterte to consider further easing quarantine restrictions starting in March to bolster the economy, which has suffered one of the worst recessions in the region, and stave off hunger. But Duterte rejected the recommendations.

“The chief executive recognizes the importance of re-opening the economy and its impact on people’s livelihoods,” Roque said, but noted that the president “gives higher premium to public health and safety.”

The Philippines has reported more than 563,000 confirmed cases and more than 12,000 deaths, the second-highest in Southeast Asia.

In the Americas, Mexico has received its first shipment of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.

Some 200,000 doses arrived to Mexico City’s international airport late Monday night aboard a British Airways flight from Moscow. Officials plan to use the doses to begin vaccinating seniors in the capital’s most marginalized boroughs on Wednesday.

Mexico received its first shipment of vaccines from Pfizer in mid-December, but turned to Sputnik V in January when other expected vaccine shipments were delayed. Sputnik too arrives later than initially expected. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in late January. In early February, Mexican regulators gave Sputnik V emergency approval and the government signed a contract to bring 400,000 doses to Mexico.

A health-care worker administers Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine to an elderly citizen in Sao Goncalo near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last week. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

Brazil has fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, its health regulator said on Tuesday, although a dispute over a supply deal means it has none to start an immunization program with.

It is the first coronavirus shot to receive full approval in Brazil, regulator Anvisa said. Vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., have only been approved for emergency use.

The approval is good news for a country where the immunization campaign has been plagued by delays and political squabbling. However, it is unclear whether this will pave the way for a supply deal of a highly effective shot that is being rolled out globally.

“We hope to be able to move forward in our negotiations with the Brazilian government to support the immunization of the country’s population,” Pfizer’s Brazil boss Marta Diez said in a statement, without giving further details.

Brazil’s Health Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. President Jair Bolsonaro has criticized the terms of a deal proposed by Pfizer, saying it is overly onerous as it exempts the U.S. firm from potential liability for unforeseen problems. Pfizer has said other countries, including Brazil’s neighbors in Latin America, have agreed to those terms.

In the Middle East, Oman will not allow people from 10 countries to enter the country for 15 days to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in particular certain mutated strains.

In Africa, two of South Africa’s prime commercial property owners said this week they will extend rental relief to struggling tenants this year. South Africa is the hardest-hit country on the continent, with more than 1.5 million reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 49,000 deaths.

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