Students across Canada are returning to class following the holiday break, with some provinces opting to delay bringing kids back into classrooms amid COVID-19 concerns, while others are resuming in-person instruction right away.
In British Columbia, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said there was no need to delay school after the holidays and that a task force was working to ensure a safe return.
But some B.C. parents remain concerned about sending their kids back to school without more precautions in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19, with more than 40,000 people signing a petition calling on the province to pause in-class learning for two weeks.
“If schools were to reopen the same way that they did prior to the holiday, I am concerned,” said Dr. Amy Tan, a physician and organizer with Masks for Canada. Tan said she wasn’t sure if she would be sending her 11-year-old son back to school in Victoria.
She wants the province to release more information about recent spread of COVID-19 locally as well as within the province so that parents can make an informed decision. She also wants to see asymptomatic and more general, widespread testing in schools.
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In Ontario, where thousands of elementary and secondary school students are returning to remote learning on Monday, the Official Opposition is similarly calling for widespread testing in schools.
Marit Stiles, the NDP’s education critic, said in an interview with CBC Toronto that the Ontario government doesn’t know how many students in publicly funded schools are asymptomatic across the province and that a “comprehensive testing strategy” is needed.
In an open letter to parents released on the weekend, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said “schools are not a source of rising community transmission,” according to medical experts. He said a province-wide lockdown imposed on Dec. 26 has helped to ensure that schools remain safe.
Ontario elementary students, as well as secondary students in northern public health units, will learn remotely for the first week of January but can return to classrooms on Jan. 11. Secondary students in the rest of the province can return to classrooms on Jan. 25.
Meanwhile, Quebec elementary and high schools will remain closed to in-person instruction until Jan. 11.
Roxane Borgès Da Silva, a public health professor at Université de Montréal, told Radio-Canada on Sunday that she is concerned about reopening schools and returning to normal when there are so many new cases every day.
She said 11 per cent of tests are coming back positive while the World Health Organization recommends a lockdown at just five per cent.
“As we have a very high positivity rate of COVID-19, we may have to do a strict lockdown,” she said. “I am very scared for the children.”
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7 a.m. ET Monday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 601,656, with 80,817 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,865.
In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador‘s active caseload has dropped to single digits after reporting no new cases and two recoveries on Sunday. The province, which hasn’t recorded a new infection in five days, now has nine active cases.
New Brunswick announced seven new cases on Sunday, while Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia did not report any new cases.
Quebec issued its first COVID-19 update of the new year on Sunday. It shows a total of 7,663 people have tested positive since Dec. 31 and 121 have died.
Ontario reported 2,964 new cases and 25 additional deaths on Sunday. On Monday, the first five health-care workers to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the province are returning to Toronto’s University Health Network to receive their second dose, 21 days after the first.
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Manitoba registered 101 new infections and five more fatalities on Sunday.
In Alberta, the province’s chief medical officer of health on Sunday reported an estimated 400 new cases of COVID-19. Dr. Deena Hinshaw added that Alberta’s hospitalization and ICU totals remained stable, and the province’s death toll stayed at 1,046.
In British Columbia, which doesn’t provide COVID-19 data on weekends, the government has given the green light for the Vancouver Canucks to play home games in the province during the upcoming 2021 NHL season.
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In the North, Nunavut is reporting zero active cases after going from zero to 266 cases of COVID-19 in less than two months. The territorial government announced Sunday that 265 of those cases are now recovered, while one case resulted in a death.
Yukon also did not report any new cases on Sunday, while N.W.T. did not provide updated figures over the weekend.
Here’s a look at what’s happening with COVID-19 across the country:
What’s happening around the world
As of early Monday morning, more than 85.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 47.9 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
In Europe, Britain began vaccinating its population with the COVID-19 shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca on Monday, as it looks to curb a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks fuelled by a new and more transmissible variant of the virus.
Britain is the first country to roll out the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, which can be kept in refrigerators rather than ultra-cold storage, making it easier to distribute than the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
In Asia-Pacific, mask wearing has become mandatory is some circumstances in Australia’s largest city due to the pandemic risk. People risk a 200 Australian dollar ($196 Cdn) fine in Sydney if they don’t wear masks in shopping malls, on public transport and in various indoor areas.
Thailand has registered 745 new coronavirus cases, with a new death reported in Bangkok, where a semi-lockdown went into effect. The government has ordered all schools closed from Monday but has not yet closed down shopping malls or stores, while restaurants are still allowed to operate but cannot serve alcoholic beverages.
In the Americas, the U.S. government is considering giving some people half the dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in order to speed up vaccinations, the head of Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine program, said on Sunday.
Moncef Slaoui said on CBS’s Face the Nation that officials were in talks with Moderna and the Food and Drug Administration about the idea of “giving half of the dose to people between the ages of 18 and 55,” which would mean “achieving the objective of immunizing double the number of people with the doses we have.”
“We know it induces [an] identical immune response” to the full dose, he said. Moderna and the FDA could not immediately be reached for comment.
At the same time, Slaoui rejected the suggestion that officials should prioritize giving more people a single shot, rather than holding back doses for the second shot, saying that cutting Moderna vaccine doses in half was “a more responsible approach that would be based on facts and data.”
Colombia’s capital, Bogota, will implement strict two-week quarantines in three neighbourhoods beginning on Tuesday to try to control a second wave of coronavirus.
In Africa, South Africa is aiming to get COVID-19 vaccines by next month but is still in talks with pharmaceutical companies and no deals have been signed yet.
The country remains the hardest hit on the continent, with more than 1.1 million cases and more than 29,000 deaths reported since the start of the pandemic.
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