Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Jan. 5

The latest:

Ontario says it plans to give a COVID-19 vaccination to all health workers, residents and essential caregivers in long-term care homes in several hard-hit regions by Jan. 21.

The province, which has faced criticism over its handling of the vaccine rollout, said Tuesday that the plan will cover long-term care facilities in Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Windsor-Essex.

The province’s website says just over 50,000 vaccine doses have been administered as of Monday night, but the provincial statement released Tuesday said that roughly 50,000 people have received a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and nearly 3,000 people have been given a dose of Moderna’s vaccine.

The province has received 95,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 53,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to date.

WATCH | Ontario premier warns of vaccine supply issues:  

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says long-term care homes will be the priority for COVID-19 vaccinations as the province works through supply issues. 0:27

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and a member of Ontario’s vaccine task force, said Tuesday that logistical and organizational challenges were at play at the outset of vaccination efforts in the province and across the country.

“I think it’s fair to give these programs — not just in Ontario, but across the country — a little bit of wiggle room and a little bit of runway to take off,” Bogoch told CBC’s Heather Hiscox before the provincial update. “However, it’s now been three weeks since the first delivery of the vaccine. We should be taking off, we should be in the air and we should have mass vaccine programs functioning at full capacity by now.

“I think the next test is to see what’s done between now and a week from now,” Bogoch said. “We should not have any vaccines in freezers.”

A staff person waits at the front counter of Copernicus Lodge in Toronto on Tuesday. The not-for-profit facility, which includes apartments and long-term care beds, declared its first outbreak of COVID-19 last month. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In order to distribute more COVID-19 vaccines faster, some jurisdictions around the world have been looking at using different vaccine doses and vaccination schedules.

At a briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Canada is committed to a two-dose vaccine regimen for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. 

While there is “promising” data on vaccine effectiveness after the first dose, she said it’s “very limited at this time” and requires further analysis. 

WATCH | Dr. Tam says Canada is committed to 2-dose vaccine regimen:

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam assures viewers that two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will be given. 1:19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that the federal government has delivered almost 500,000 vaccine doses to provinces and territories and is on track to deliver more than one million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna by the end of January.

“By September, we’ll have enough doses to vaccinate every Canadian who wants a shot,” the prime minister said.

He acknowledged he was troubled by the slow pace of the vaccine rollout. While Canada already has received more than 424,050 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, only 35 per cent of those doses have been administered by the provinces, with roughly 148,000 Canadians having received a shot so far. 

“I think Canadians, including me, are frustrated to see vaccines in freezers and not in people’s arms,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau said he’ll be speaking with premiers later this week about what the federal government can do to help as officials work to get the vaccine out to Canadians more quickly.

Trudeau also touched on the question of travel abroad, which has been a hot button issue in recent days after it was revealed that several provincial and federal politicians — including two Liberal MPs — had travelled outside of Canada despite advisories to avoid all non-essential travel.

“No one should be vacationing abroad right now,” Trudeau said. “But if you still decide to travel at your own risk, you will need to show a negative COVID-19 test before you return and you must self-isolate for two weeks when you get back.”

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 4:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

As of 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 618,646 with 78,849 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 16,233.

In Quebec, health officials have decided to delay the second shot for many of the people who got a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine so they can get the protection offered by a single dose to more front-line health-care workers.

Quebec reported 2,508 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 62 additional deaths. Hospitalizations, which have been a growing concern in the province, stood at 1,317 with 194 COVID-19 patients in Quebec’s intensive care units, according to the province. The most recent figure from the province puts the number of vaccine doses administered in Quebec at just over 32,700.

Radio-Canada reported Tuesday that Premier François Legault has been asked to consider a curfew as the province deals with rising numbers and an increasingly strained health-care system. The premier hasn’t made a final decision, the report said.

Health officials in Ontario on Tuesday reported 3,128 new cases of COVID-19 and 51 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,730. Hospitalizations stood at 1,347 and 352 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care beds, a provincial dashboard said.

The province’s first field hospital built during the pandemic is taking patients starting this week, as COVID-19 infections put increasing pressure on hospital capacity across southern Ontario. The Burlington facility was built in April and can accommodate 93 patients. 

In Canada’s North, none of the territories reported any new cases on Tuesday. In Yukon, health workers kicked off the territory’s immunization program on Monday with the Moderna vaccine at a long-term care facility in Whitehorse

“I feel very privileged, and I did it because I want all people to know that there is an answer to what’s happening within our life right now,” said 84-year-old Agnes Mills. Mills and 103-year-old Mary Merchant were the first to roll up their sleeves at Whistle Bend Place.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, said the focus in the territory for the first few weeks will be long-term care residents and staff.

The convention centre in Whitehorse will come into use later as a mass clinic site, with the capacity to see up to 1,000 people a day, he said. That effort, which will focus on high-risk priority populations, will begin within a couple of weeks, Hanley said. There will also be two teams that will go out to the territory’s rural communities.

WATCH | Yukon begins rollout of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine:

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, describes the enthusiasm for the vaccine and the territory’s plan to reach urban and rural residents. 2:43

Nunavut provided details about its plan on Tuesday, saying vaccinations will begin this week at the elders’ centre in Iqaluit. The Northwest Territories is scheduled to begin immunizations next week.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 27 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, a new single-day record for the province. This prompted health officials to announce a rollback in every zone of the province to the more restrictive orange phase of recovery, effective midnight Tuesday night.

“The situation is very serious,” said Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said at a briefing. “We had hoped this would not happen but we expected it might and we are ready for it now that it is here. This is why we are acting quickly and decisively … to prevent the outbreaks now underway from spreading across the province.”

Nova Scotia reported three new cases on Tuesday. Bars and restaurants in the Halifax area were able to reopen for in-person dining on Monday, with some restrictions in place, after weeks of being closed under public health restrictions.

WATCH | What Canada can learn from world vaccination efforts:

Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has gotten off to a sluggish start, but there could be lessons to learn from countries such as Israel, which has vaccination clinics operating around the clock. 3:11

Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island each reported one new case of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Speaking at a briefing, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said that he doesn’t foresee the return of the so-called Atlantic travel bubble until Jan. 25 at the earliest. King said health officials want to monitor for potential case increases linked to holiday and New Year’s Eve gatherings.

Manitoba reported 130 new cases and seven new deaths on Tuesday, as Premier Brian Pallister expanded his cabinet and split the health minister’s job in two amid a pandemic that has sunk the popularity of his government.

Heather Stefanson and Audrey Gordon now share the health portfolio, with Stefanson, the former families minister, taking the lead on the pandemic as the minister of health and seniors. Gordon, a first-term MLA, leads the new Department of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery. She’s the first Black cabinet minister in Manitoba’s history.

Cameron Friesen, the previous health minister, now leads the province’s Justice Department.

In addition to the new cases and deaths, the province is also reporting a total of 339 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 40 in intensive care.

WATCH | Risks vs. rewards in altering COVID-19 vaccine doses:

In order to distribute more COVID-19 vaccines faster, some jurisdictions are looking at using different vaccine doses, vaccination schedules and possibly mixing and matching vaccines. Experts say these choices are about weighing the risks of going ‘off label’ and the potential rewards. 2:01

Saskatchewan reported 153 new cases and five deaths on Tuesday. There were 166 people hospitalized with the illness, including 31 in intensive care.

A total of 4,254 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the province so far. Vaccination of long-term care residents and health providers began Tuesday morning in the far north zone of the province.

In Alberta, a second health-care worker, a woman in her 50s in the Edmonton zone, has died from COVID-19, the health minister said Tuesday. The news came just one day after the public learned the province had lost its first health-care worker to the illness.

The province reported 843 new cases and 26 deaths on Tuesday.

Alberta has seen several MLAs demoted or removed from their cabinet posts after facing questions over holiday travel.

British Columbia announced 428 new cases of COVID-19 and eight more deaths on Tuesday. There are currently 367 people in hospital, 77 of whom are in intensive care.

The numbers come a day after B.C.’s top doctor offered an update on the province’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province’s initial focus is on priority populations — including long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers, and people living in remote First Nations communities — with an aim of getting roughly 150,000 people immunized by February.

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


What’s happening around the world

As of Tuesday evening, more than 86.2 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide, with more than 48.3 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a COVID-19 tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that people should get two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine within 21 to 28 days, but it offered some flexibility on timing as many countries struggled with immunization rollouts.

With vaccines in limited supply as production ramps up, the WHO has been examining how they can be used most effectively. “We deliberated and came out with the following recommendation: two doses of this [Pfizer] vaccine within 21 to 28 days,” Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, chair of WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), told an online news briefing.

However, the panel said countries should have leeway to spread out shots over six weeks so that more people at higher risk of illness can get them.

“SAGE made a provision for countries in exceptional circumstances of [Pfizer] vaccine supply constraints to delay the administration of the second dose for a few weeks in order to maximize the number of individuals benefiting from a first dose,” Cravioto said.

WATCH | WHO advisory group offers some leeway on vaccine timing:

The head of an expert advisory group to the World Health Organization said the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should be given within 28 days but there is some room for flexibility. 1:19

In Europe, England is facing a third national lockdown that will last at least six weeks, as authorities struggle to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals around the U.K.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a tough new stay-at-home order for England that won’t be reviewed until at least mid-February to combat a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus. It takes effect at midnight Tuesday. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon imposed a lockdown that began Tuesday.

Johnson and Sturgeon said the lockdowns were needed to protect the National Health Service as a new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 sweeps across Britain. On Monday, hospitals in England were treating 26,626 coronavirus patients, 40 per cent more than during the first pandemic peak in April.

Ambulances line up as a government-sponsored electronic sign gives out coronavirus pandemic information to visitors and staff outside the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Many U.K. hospitals have already been forced to cancel elective surgery, and the strain of the pandemic may soon delay cancer surgery and limit intensive care services for patients without COVID-19, Neil Mortenson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, told Times Radio.

“Over the weekend we talked about a slow-motion car crash, but I think it’s getting much worse than that now,” he said.

Beginning Tuesday, primary and secondary schools and colleges in England will be closed for in-person learning except for the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils. University students will not be returning until at least mid-February. People were told to work from home unless it’s impossible to do so, and to leave home only for essential trips.

All non-essential shops and personal care services like hairdressers will be closed, and restaurants can only offer takeout. Britain has reported over 75,500 virus-related deaths, one of the highest tallies in Europe.

(CBC News)

Amid public outcry, France’s health minister has promised an “exponential” acceleration of his country’s slow coronavirus vaccination process.

After barely 500 people in France were vaccinated in the first six days, Health Minister Olivier Veran defended the government’s strategy of giving the vaccines first to residents of nursing homes. But he vowed Tuesday to simplify a bureaucratic consent process blamed in part for France’s lagging vaccinations.

In the Americas, Arizona reported a record 253 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday as the state grapples with the worst diagnosis rate in the United States, with one person in every 126 diagnosed with the virus in the past week.

On Tuesday, the state with a population of seven million reported 5,932 new cases, raising its totals to 567,474 cases and 9,317 confirmed deaths since the pandemic began. A record 4,789 COVID-19 patients occupied hospital beds on Monday, according to the state’s coronavirus data, with a record 1,096 COVID-19 patients in intensive care beds.

Mexico approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for emergency use Monday. Assistant Health Secretariat Hugo Lopez-Gatell said he erroneously reported approval for Chinese vaccine-maker CanSino, noting it had not yet submitted full study results for safety and efficacy.

In the Middle East, Iran has registered its first case of a highly contagious coronavirus variant that emerged in Britain, in an Iranian who arrived from the U.K.

American biotech company Moderna said Israel has approved its COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna said in a statement Tuesday that the Israeli Health Ministry authorized use of the company’s vaccine and that it would begin delivering this month the six million doses secured by Israel.

Israel’s Health Ministry reported 8,308 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Tuesday — one of the highest daily tallies since the beginning of the pandemic — as the country struggles to contain the pandemic during a third national lockdown

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan will decide later this week whether to impose a state of emergency in the Tokyo area, a move citizens derided as too little, too late in a nation set to host the Olympics.

As a team from the World Health Organization (WHO) prepares to visit China to investigate the origins of COVID-19, Beijing has stepped up efforts not only to prevent new outbreaks, but also shape the narrative about when and where the pandemic began.

Medical workers in a booth work during COVID-19 testing at a makeshift clinic in Seoul. South Korea is extending stringent distancing rules as authorities seek to suppress a viral resurgence. (Ahn Young-joon/The Associated Press)

The number of deaths linked to the coronavirus in South Korea passed 1,000 on Tuesday, while an increasing number of gym owners said they would reopen in protest against strict physical distancing rules.

In Africa, Eswatini aims to vaccinate all its 1.3 million people against COVID-19, senior officials in the southern African kingdom said.

South Africa’s undertakers are struggling to cope with the rise in deaths, National Funeral Practitioners Association of SA President Muzi Hlengwa told state broadcaster SABC.

“It is something that you have never seen before. … We have run out of coffins, we have run out of space at the mortuary,” he said. “We normally have cremations during the day but now we have cremations even at night.”

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

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