WHO says local conditions must be considered when countries plan to ease mask rules

The latest:

The World Health Organization on Friday said local conditions needed to be taken into account if a country is planning to allow vaccinated people not to wear masks in public.

“In the instance of a country that wishes to take away a mask mandate … that should only be done in the context of considering both the intensity of transmission in the area and the level of vaccine coverage,” WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, told a virtual briefing in Geneva.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday advised that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks outdoors and could avoid wearing them indoors in most places.

Meanwhile, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, executive director of the WHO, expressed concern about ongoing inequities in vaccine distribution on Friday.

“In a handful of rich countries, which bought up the majority of the vaccine supply, lower-risk groups are now being vaccinated,” Tedros said, expressing concern about the number of health-care workers worldwide who are not yet protected by vaccines.

“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents — but right now, I urge them to reconsider and instead donate vaccines to COVAX.”

Canada and the U.S. have authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in youths aged 12-15.

At the same briefing on Friday, WHO officials said the Geneva-based health agency is in touch with the U.S. about sharing vaccines with the international COVAX scheme, which distributes doses to poorer countries.

“They recognize that sharing those doses may help ensure greater impact overall,” Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO adviser, said Friday. “They want to be ready when the doses are ready … We’re working in parallel.”

-From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 10:20 a.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

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As of 11:10 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 1,315,628 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 74,173 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 24,859.

Ontario on Friday reported 2,362 new cases of COVID-19 and 26 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 1,582, with 777 people in ICU due to COVID-related illness.

The update comes a day after Premier Doug Ford announced the stay-at-home order currently in effect would be extended until at least June 2.

Quebec, meanwhile, on Friday reported 838 new cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths.

In Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island was the first province to report updated figures on Friday, saying there were two new cases on the island. Health officials in Nova ScotiaNew Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador had not yet provided updated data Friday.

Quebec on Thursday reported 781 new cases and five additional deaths.

Manitoba on Thursday reported a single-day high of 560 new COVID-19 cases, as the third wave of the pandemic showed no sign of abating. The three deaths reported Thursday came one day after Manitoba reached a grim milestone of 1,000 dead from COVID-19. 

“The key challenge we face now, as our numbers have risen, is that we have to get everybody vaccinated and we have to follow the public health rules and shorten the third wave,” Premier Brian Pallister said before Thursday’s numbers were released.

Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 223 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths.

In Alberta on Thursday, officials reported 1,558 new COVID-19 cases and nine new deaths. According to the province, there were 722 people in hospital in the province, with 177 in intensive care.

Across the North, Nunavut reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while the Northwest Territories reported one new case. Yukon did not post any updates on Thursday because of an internet outage a day earlier.

British Columbia’s top doctor on Thursday reported 587 new infections and five deaths.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 11:10  a.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

A host cleans a pod of the London Eye in preparation to reopen as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease in London on Friday. (Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

As of early Friday morning, more than 161.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to a tracking tool from Johns Hopkins University. The global reported death toll stood at more than 3.3 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan is further expanding a coronavirus state of emergency to three additional areas ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. The state of emergency is currently in Tokyo and five other prefectures. The additions include Japan’s northern island state of Hokkaido, where the Olympic marathon will be held, as well as Hiroshima and Okayama in western Japan.

The expansion of the state of emergency is a major shift from the government’s initial plan, which relied on less stringent measures. Japan has been struggling to slow coronavirus infections ahead of the postponed Olympics, which are scheduled to start July 23.

India’s prime minister has warned people to take extra precautions as the country’s devastating coronavirus outbreak is spreading fast to rural areas where nearly two-thirds of the country’s nearly 1.4 billion people live.

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Singapore announced the strictest curbs on social gatherings and public activities since easing a lockdown last year, amid a rise in locally acquired infections and with new clusters forming in recent weeks.

In the Americas, the governor of Mexico’s resort-studded Caribbean coast said Thursday his state is at “imminent risk” of returning to lockdown as coronavirus cases there rose steadily. 

Gov. Carlos Joaquin said the state of Quintana Roo, home to resorts like Cancun, Cozumel and Tulum, has seen five weeks of increases in cases. Joaquin suggested that increased tourism around Easter played a role in the rise. Anecdotal evidence suggests tourists are attracted to Mexico’s Caribbean resorts in part because there has been no lockdown and sanitary measures are largely voluntary. Many visitors shed their masks when they reach their hotels or beach clubs.

A nurse administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center for people over 50 set up at the Vasconcelos Library, in Mexico City earlier this week. (Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images)

In Africa, Egypt has received a batch of more than 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX initiative and a separate shipment of 500,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, the health ministry said on Thursday.

In the Middle East, Oman will end a nightly curfew on Saturday, but shops and commercial activities will be banned from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m.

In Europe, Italy has relaxed its COVID-19 quarantine requirement for visitors from the European Union, Israel and Britain in a bid to jump-start its pandemic-devastated tourism industry heading into the peak season.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza signed an ordinance Friday allowing the quarantine-free visits with proof of a negative virus test starting Sunday.

-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 10:15 a.m. ET

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