Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Feb. 18

The latest:

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Thursday that a global clinical trial to evaluate their COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women has begun. 

The trial will include 4,000 women from countries around the world, including Canada, who will be vaccinated between their 24th and 34th week of gestation. The company says the study will evaluate the safety, tolerability and immune response of two doses of the vaccine — or placebo — administered 21 days apart.

It will also assess whether the vaccine is safe for the babies of the pregnant women and whether there is a transfer of potentially protective antibody to their infants, according to a release from the company. Infants will be monitored through approximately six months of age.

There are plans to begin studies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children age five to 11 in the coming months as well as in children under five later in 2021. Trials involving kids age 12 to 15 years are ongoing. 

What’s happening across Canada

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It would be ‘foolish’ to allow another wave of COVID-19 infections in Canada because we know enough about how the virus is spread to prevent it, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch. 1:02

As of 6:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 837,502 cases of COVID-19, with 32,587 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 21,498.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials reported 48 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. The province, which as of Thursday’s update had 380 active cases, had two patients in hospital.

COVID-19 testing began Thursday and will continue Friday in the small Labrador coastal community of Makkovik, where one presumptive positive case was reported Wednesday. Anyone in the Inuit town can get a test, whether they have symptoms or not.  

(CBC News)

Across Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as Nova Scotia reported two and Prince Edward Island one.

Quebec on Thursday reported 900 additional cases of COVID-19 and 10 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 747, with 129 patients in intensive care units.

The province also released early data which suggests its decision to delay second vaccine doses amid a vaccine shortage was not the wrong move many scientists feared it would be. 

The data from Quebec’s immunization committee shows the vaccines to be 80 per cent effective after 14 days in younger vaccinated populations (primarily health-care workers) and after three weeks among the residents of CHSLDs, who tend to be much older and sicker.

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Ontario on Thursday reported 1,038 new cases of COVID-19 and 44 additional deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 758, with 277 in intensive care units.

The update comes a day after Toronto’s mayor, top doctor and emergency management boss announced they want the city to remain under Ontario’s lockdown until at least March 9, two weeks longer than planned. Peel Region’s Chief Medical Officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh, joined in the call for a two-week extension of the rules.

“I have never been as worried about the future as I am today,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, expressing concern about the number of cases of COVID-19 variants of concern.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 138 new cases Thursday and two new deaths, with more than half of the new cases in the Northern Health Region. Neighbouring Saskatchewan reported 146 new cases Thursday with no new deaths. 

In Alberta, health officials reported 415 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths on Thursday. They said a total of 239 cases involving COVID-19 variants of concern have been identified in the province to date by a dedicated 50-person tracing team. 

British Columbia reported 617 new cases on Thursday and four additional deaths. The RCMP reported it broke up two parties on the University of British Columbia campus on the weekend

Two party organizers received violation tickets of $2,300 each and two other students were fined $230 each.

Police warned that the university could take non-academic disciplinary actions against students who violate COVID-19 rules.

In the North, Yukon announced Thursday that vaccination clinics for the general public should open March 1 in Whitehorse

There were six new cases reported in Nunavut on Thursday, all in Arviat, the only community with active cases. There were no new cases reported in Yukon or in the Northwest Territories.

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

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 1:50 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the first one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the novel coronavirus are expected to arrive next week for distribution in some 20 countries on the continent.

The doses are the first of some seven million coming from the Serum Institute in India.

Africa CDC director John Nkengasong and colleagues did not immediately say which countries on the 54-nation continent will receive the first shipment, but Nkengasong said Thursday that health workers will get the shots.

“We are very excited,” he said.

Africa is waiting for vaccines from the global COVAX initiative, which has said it would supply 25 per cent of those needed for the continent’s 1.3 billion people. As deliveries fall behind schedule, African nations are scrambling to secure vaccines from various sources.

The African continent is on the brink of recording 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

WATCH | Global cases of COVID-19 have started to see a decline in recent weeks:

Global cases of COVID-19 have started to see a decline in recent weeks thanks to mitigation efforts by individuals and governments as well as larger rollouts of vaccines. 2:01

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 110.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with 61.9 million cases listed as recovered or resolved on a tracking site maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.4 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Nepal approved the emergency use of a vaccine developed by an affiliate of China’s Sinopharm.

South Korea’s daily increase in coronavirus infections has exceeded 600 for the second straight day, continuing an upward trend following last week’s Lunar New Year’s holidays. The 621 new cases reported Thursday brought the national caseload to 85,567, including 1,544 deaths. The country reported 621 new cases Wednesday, which was the highest daily jump in more than a month.

More than two-thirds of the new cases were in the Seoul area, home to half of South Korea’s 51 million people. A plastic factory near the capital has emerged as a major cluster of infections, linked to more than 110 cases so far since a Cambodian worker first tested positive on Saturday.

A worker sprays a cleaning solution on the seats in a movie theatre on Thursday in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government is easing physical-distancing rules. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

In the Americas, the number of people in the U.S. applying for unemployment aid rose last week to 861,000, evidence that layoffs remain high despite a steady drop in the number of confirmed viral infections.

Applications from laid-off workers rose 13,000 from the previous week, which was revised sharply higher, the Labor Department said Thursday. Before the virus erupted in the United States last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Food is distributed by a mobile food pantry in Immokalee, Fla., earlier this week. The Harry Chapin Food Bank does weekly distributions in the town, which has a poverty rate of more than 40 per cent and has a population primarily made up of agricultural workers. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The job market has stalled, with employers having added a mere 49,000 jobs in January after cutting workers in December. Nearly 10 million jobs remain lost to the pandemic. Though the unemployment rate fell last month from 6.7 per cent to 6.3 per cent, it did so in part because some people stopped looking for jobs. People who aren’t actively seeking work aren’t counted as unemployed.

Fraudulent claims may be elevating the totals. Last week, Ohio reported a huge increase in applications and said it had set aside about half the increase for additional review out of concern over fraud.

Venezuela will begin vaccinating medical personnel on Thursday.

Rio de Janeiro halted new vaccinations against COVID-19 for a week starting Wednesday due to a shortage of doses, one of a growing number of Brazilian cities that have run low on supplies and are demanding help from Brazil’s federal government.

City officials said they will continue to deliver second doses to those who have already been injected once, but have paused new shots for the elderly. Officials said vaccines for new recipients ran out partly because they had pushed forward their schedule by one week after receiving a fresh lot of doses. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said on Monday that additional shots won’t be delivered before next week.

“We are ready and we have already vaccinated 244,852 people,” he said on his official Twitter profile. “We just need the vaccine to arrive.”

In Europe, Spain will make travellers from South Africa and Brazil go into quarantine for at least seven days following their arrival.

In the Middle East, snow blanketed parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel on Wednesday, covering areas it has not reached in years, disrupting traffic and postponing vaccination campaigns against COVID-19 and even exams at some universities.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9:30 a.m. ET

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