Manitoba announced it was loosening some public health restrictions on Tuesday while Newfoundland and Labrador moved to tighten them in the St. John’s region following a spike in COVID-19 cases.
This comes as more provinces confirmed cases of the more transmissible coronavirus variants first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
In Quebec, local health officials in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region said they discovered two cases of a variant first identified in South Africa among samples taken in early January. Shortly after the Christmas holidays, when the province had temporarily relaxed public health measures, the region saw a sharp increase in infections.
The results from the region located more than 400 kilometres northwest of Montreal marked the first time the variant originally found in South Africa, also known as B1351, has been detected in Quebec.
Manitoba, which announced its first confirmed case of the variant first detected in the U.K., reported 75 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths on Tuesday.
The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the variant case was “not unexpected” given its presence in Canada and internationally. The case is related to international travel, and there’s no evidence to show transmission of it within Manitoba, he said.
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The update came as Roussin and Premier Brian Pallister announced the loosening of public health orders. Museums, indoor rinks, restaurants, gyms and places of worship will be able to reopen with limited capacity on Friday.
“Because things are controlled, because of the restrictions we have in place and protocols, we’re still OK to proceed with our reopening plans,” said Roussin. “But it’s also a reminder that we’re not out of the woods, that we need to be cautious moving forward.”
Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador is imposing new restrictions on some residents as it reported 30 new cases on Tuesday, its highest daily case count since March 25 last year.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, is implementing a two-week “circuit breaker” for the St. John’s area starting at midnight. The new measures include limiting gatherings to a maximum of 20 people and suspending all group activities, with all gyms and recreational facilities required to close.
Tam wary of resurgence as restrictions loosen
With new and more contagious variants of COVID-19 escalating in Canada, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said provincial governments lifting lockdown restrictions must be ready to slam them back into place at a moment’s notice.
“I think what my concern is that right now if we release some of these measures that a resurgence will occur,” Tam said. “But that resurgence could be due to one of these variants, and then it will be much more difficult to control.”
She said because we’re not yet screening every positive COVID-19 case for variants, Canada probably doesn’t have a full picture of the presence of more contagious variants of the virus behind COVID-19 in the country. But because they could become the most prevalent sources of infection in Canada, any sign that they’re beginning to spread needs to be met with a rapid and decisive public health response.
“You’ve got to put the brakes on quickly,” she said.
Tam also said Canada’s COVID-19 picture is getting better, with daily case counts less than half of what they were a month ago and hospitalizations dropping.
About 100 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day but that’s down from almost 150 people a day in the last week of January.
What else is happening in Canada
As of 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had reported 810,796 cases of COVID-19 — with 39,178 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 20,909.
Health Canada has agreed with a request from Pfizer to recognize that each vial of the company’s vaccine includes six doses, not five, following an independent regulatory review.
The labelling change means that more shots can be squeezed out of each vial — and the company can ship fewer vials and still meet its contractual obligations to send a certain number of doses to its customers.
WATCH | How more doses can be extracted from Pfizer’s vaccine vials
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that non-essential travellers entering Canada through the land border will soon need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arrival.
While border officers can’t legally deny entry to Canadians, those who show up without proof of a test could face fines of up to $3,000, Trudeau said.
The new measure kicks in Feb. 15, more than a month after the government announced air travellers will need proof of negative polymerase chain reaction tests — commonly known as PCR tests — three days before boarding their flights home.
Ontario is reporting 1,022 new cases and 17 new deaths on Tuesday, a day after the province announced a gradual lifting of stay-at-home orders.
The new cases are the fewest for the province on a single day, without data problems, since early November. The seven-day average of new daily cases rose slightly to 1,367.
Ontario is reporting 1,022 cases of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> and nearly 30,800 tests completed. Locally, there are 343 new cases in Toronto, 250 in Peel and 128 in York Region. <br> <br>As of 8:00 p.m. yesterday, 398,633 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.
There are now about 13,948 confirmed, active cases provincewide. The number of active cases has steadily declined since its peak at more than 30,500 in mid-January.
Three public health units will be the first to see the stay-at-home order, which was declared four weeks ago, lifted on Wednesday.
Other regions are staying in the grey lockdown phase for now, but the province is making some changes to the restrictions they face. Chief among them is that non-essential retailers will be allowed to open their doors with a 25 per cent capacity limit.
Quebec, Premier François Legault urged the public to continue to follow public health guidelines, following the reopening of non-essential businesses such as stores, museums and hairdressers on Monday.
The province reported 826 new cases and 32 more deaths on Tuesday. Along with new cases, hospitalizations are also trending downward, with 940 people currently in hospital, including 145 in intensive care.
But the threat of more transmissible variants remains, as the province also announced it had identified in Abitibi-Témiscamingue two new cases of the variant first found in South Africa. The province had previously identified eight cases of the variant first found in the U.K.
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Saskatchewan reported 80 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, its lowest daily increase in three months, alongside five more deaths. However, the results were based on 1,910 tests performed Monday, which is well below the province’s stated target of 4,000 tests a day.
Alberta reported 195 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and 12 related deaths. One more case of a virus variant was detected over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 104 in the province. Of those, 97 are the strain first identified in the U.K. and seven have been the strain first identified in South Africa.
“I know there are concerns about one of these more contagious variants becoming the dominant strain in the province,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference. “This is a serious worry for me, too.”
British Columbia reported 435 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and four related deaths.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 15 new cases and one additional death. It also confirmed a fourth variant case, which is in the Moncton region and related to international travel.
Meanwhile, P.E.I. is reporting one new case, a person who was diagnosed while out of the province and will remain off-Island while recovering. Nova Scotia also reported one new case.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
What’s happening around the world
As of Tuesday evening, more than 106.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 59.6 million of those cases listed as recovered or resolved by Johns Hopkins University, which maintains a case tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 2.3 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, a World Health Organization team has concluded that the coronavirus is unlikely to have leaked from a Chinese lab and is more likely to have jumped to humans from an animal.
WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek announced that assessment Tuesday at the end of a visit by a WHO team that is investigating the possible origins of the coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
On the vaccine front, India’s government has ordered 10 million more doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from the Serum Institute of India.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Sputnik-V has become the third COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by Pakistan for emergency use, the country’s health minister said.
In the Middle East, dozens of asylum seekers and foreign workers in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv lined up to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday as part of an initiative to inoculate the city’s foreign nationals.
Iran has launched a vaccination drive, focusing initially on hospital intensive care personnel, as the hardest-hit country in the region awaits enough vaccines for its general population.
In Africa, Ethiopia has secured nine million doses of COVID-19 vaccines up until April and hopes to inoculate at least a fifth of its 110 million people by the end of the year, the health minister said.
In the Americas, the White House is increasing the supply of coronavirus vaccines beginning next week, with an aim to ensure the equity of the distribution of doses.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of the White House’s COVID-19 equity task force, said one million vaccine doses will be distributed to 250 community health centres. It’s the first phase of a program to expand vaccinations to the more than 1,300 federally supported community health centres, which primarily care for low-income and uninsured populations.
COVID-19 co-ordinator Jeff Zients also announced states will see their allocation of doses rise to 11 million per week beginning next week, up more than two million since U.S. President Joe Biden took office.
In Europe, Germany is planning to spend nearly 9 billion euros ($13 billion Cdn) this year to buy up to 635.1 million COVID-19 vaccines as part of the European Union’s procurement scheme and national deals.
Hungary will start vaccinating people suffering no chronic diseases with Russia’s Sputnik vaccine soon, the surgeon general said, becoming the first European Union country to use it.
Meanwhile, some countries are also ramping up measures to curb COVID infections. Travellers arriving in England face fines and even prison if they flout rules as part of a hotel quarantine policy designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 variants from the most at-risk countries, British health minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday.
“We will be putting in place tough fines for people who don’t comply. This includes a 1,000-pound ($1,775 Cdn) penalty for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory test,” Hancock told Parliament.
“Anyone who lies on the passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they’ve been in a country on the red list in the 10 days before arrival here, will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.”
Sweden plans to restrict the number of passengers on long-distance trains and buses in an effort to prevent a pick-up in new COVID-19 cases and the spread of mutations of the virus that could be more infectious, the government said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Greece’s prime minister says a new lockdown in the greater Athens region will close all schools and most shops from Thursday through the end of February.
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