Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada around the world on Thursday

The latest:

Quebec Premier François Legault says the province will not allow gatherings over the December holidays after all in light of a rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 

Legault announced last month that people would be allowed to gather over a four-day period, from Dec. 24 through Dec. 27, if they isolated for a week prior and after.

But on Thursday, Legault said that holiday gatherings in the province’s “red zones” involving people from different addresses will be prohibited altogether.

“When we look at the situation, we are forced to realize that it is not realistic to think that we are going to succeed in reducing the progression of the virus in a satisfactory way by Christmas,” he said at a news conference Thursday.

“I know people will be disappointed and will want to see friends and family. I want to say that is really not a good idea. The virus is firmly established pretty much everywhere around the province.”

WATCH | Dr. Cécile Tremblay on the positives of a scaled down Christmas:

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Cécile Tremblay says in all likelihood, big Christmas gatherings will be allowed again in Quebec next year, after being cancelled in much of the province due to the pandemic. In the meantime, there are advantages to a smaller celebration, she says. 0:52

Visits to the province’s long-term care homes and seniors’ residences will be prohibited.

The province reported 1,470 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday — a day after surpassing 1,500 daily cases for the first time — along with 30 new deaths.

Quebec has also tightened the health guidelines for stores and malls for the holiday shopping season.

Meanwhile, federal officials explained how they plan to distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses in the coming weeks as Ottawa launches its mass inoculation campaign. 

Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada, said Thursday that the regulatory review of Pfizer’s vaccine is “progressing really well” and her department has the “majority of information” it needs from the company to certify that it’s safe and effective.

The initial supply of the vaccine doses will be limited — just three million Canadians are expected to get a shot in the first three months of 2021.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, a former NATO commander in Iraq, is leading vaccination logistics and operations at a new national operations centre in the Public Health Agency of Canada. While the country is facing unprecedented “logistical complexities,” he said, the military and its partners will be ready to deploy vaccines as soon as they are approved in Canada. A countrywide vaccine delivery “dry run” is planned for next week.

A senior official, speaking to CBC News on a not-for-attribution basis, said Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec will get two such delivery sites each, with one in each of the other provinces. A plan for the territories is still being finalized, the official said.

What’s happening across Canada

As of 3:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 393,459, with 68,435 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 12,380.

British Columbia officials have announced new restrictions that prohibit all indoor adult team sports and return children’s programs to earlier, more restrictive guidelines.

The move came as the province reported 834 new cases and 12 more deaths on Wednesday, with COVID-19 hospitalizations rising to another new high of 337, including 79 in critical care.

In Alberta, the province is planning for the creation of field hospitals to treat hundreds of COVID-19 patients, while B.C. has introduced new restrictions on indoor group activities. Alberta announced 1,854 new cases and a positive-test rate of 9.5 per cent — both record highs.

Alberta health officials recently met to discuss a plan for two or more indoor field hospitals to treat 750 COVID-19 patients, with 375 beds each in Calgary and Edmonton for patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms, according to an internal government document obtained by CBC News.

Patients requiring intensive care would remain in city hospitals, according to the draft implementation plan detailed in the Alberta Health Services (AHS) document.

There has been increasing pressure on hospitals in the province, which has recorded more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases each day for nearly two weeks. On Wednesday, officials reported 1,685 new cases, along with 10 new deaths. There were 504 people in hospital, 97 of whom were in intensive care.

WATCH | Alberta reaches out for field hospitals:

The Alberta government is in talks with Ottawa and the Canadian Red Cross for help in setting up field hospitals, as the number of COVID-19 patients continues to surge. 2:42

On Wednesday, CBC News reported that Alberta has informally asked the Trudeau government and the Red Cross to supply field hospitals, according to a federal source.

The source said the province would likely receive at least four field hospitals — two from the Red Cross and another two from the federal government.

WATCH | Prospect of field hospitals concerns Edmonton intensive care doctor:

‘This is damage control,’ said Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care physician in Edmonton, speaking about an internal government draft plan to treat 750 COVID-19 patients in field hospitals. 6:03

Alberta introduced new COVID-19 measures on Nov. 24. They included banning all social gatherings in people’s homes, making masks mandatory for all indoor workplaces in the province’s two largest cities and moving all students in grades 7 to 12 to online learning starting Nov. 30.

Ontario reported 1,824 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 new deaths on Thursday. However, the number of new cases was inflated due to a processing error that resulted in the Middlesex-London public health unit recording three days’ worth of case data, the provincial health ministry said.

The number of patients confirmed to have COVID-19 in the province’s intensive care units has risen to 203, according to a report by Critical Care Services Ontario.

A person walks past a COVID-19 assessment centre in Toronto on Wednesday. Toronto and Peel Region continue to be in lockdown. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Public health officials have said that 150 is the threshold for when unrelated surgeries and procedures may be postponed or cancelled to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Wednesday that the province has “plateaued at a very high level,” and the results of lockdowns in Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region, which began Nov. 23, won’t be seen until next week.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a day after reporting 17 new COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday evening, Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack confirmed two cases were found in the community in the province’s northern health zone — the first time COVID-19 has been detected on a First Nation in Atlantic Canada. Those cases were not part of Wednesday’s numbers reported by public health.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases on Thursday and one recovery, bringing its number of active cases down to 29. 

New Brunswick reported six new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 111.

Prince Edward Island, which announced one new case of COVID-19 Thursday, bringing its total number of active cases to five. Premier Dennis King also said P.E.I. will not rejoin the Atlantic bubble until at least Dec. 21. 

Manitoba reported 12 more COVID-19 fatalities and 368 new cases Thursday, which is lower than the province’s average for the previous seven days. Authorities say there are 357 people in hospital with the virus, a record high.

Saskatchewan reported 259 new cases on Thursday, which is below the province’s seven-day average of 276. Saskatchewan health authorities are also reporting one additional death.

In the North, Nunavut moved out of a two-week territory-wide lockdown on Wednesday, with restrictions easing for all communities except for Arviat, where community transmission of COVID-19 is still occurring. The territory reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, all in Arviat.

Yukon reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Wearing a mask in public indoor places became mandatory in the territory this week, following a sharp rise in cases in the past few weeks.

The Northwest Territories did not report any new cases on Wednesday. There have been 15 confirmed cases in the territory since the start of the pandemic, none of which are considered still active.

WATCH | Nunavut lifts territory-wide lockdown but restrictions remain in Arviat:

Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, warns Arviat needs to keep its tight restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19. 1:04

What’s happening around the world

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 2:20 p.m. ET

As of Thursday afternoon, there were more than 64.8 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 41.6 million of those listed as recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at nearly 1.5 million.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in the United Kingdom is advising against all but essential travel to Canada based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks. It’s also advising British citizens already travelling in Canada to return the U.K. and self-isolate upon their return.

In the Americas, the United States again led the world in total COVID-19 deaths, with more than 275,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. This marks the first time the U.S. has seen more than 100,000 deaths than second-place Brazil, where some 174,000 have died. 

A sign showing the maximum number of clients allowed as part of COVID-19 measures is seen at the entrance of a clothing store in Montreal on Wednesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

In Europe, tributes poured in from France and around the world on Thursday, a day after former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing died of complications from COVID-19 at age 94.

Coronavirus infections in Russia have hit a new record, as the country’s authorities reported 28,145 new confirmed cases — the highest daily spike in the pandemic and an increase of 2,800 cases from those registered the previous day.

Russia’s total number of COVID-19 cases — nearly 2.4 million — remains the world’s fourth-highest. The government coronavirus task force has reported 41,607 deaths in the pandemic.

The country has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths regularly hitting new highs and significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. The country’s authorities have resisted imposing a second nationwide lockdown or a widespread closure of businesses.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Japanese city of Osaka is urging residents to stay home as much as possible until mid-December because of a resurgence of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. Osaka reported 386 new cases Thursday, and with overcrowding hospitals, some patients were sent to neighbouring areas for treatment.

Cases have been expanding rapidly across the country, including the Tokyo region, Aichi in central Japan and Hokkaido in the north.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 35 COVID-19 patients, are taking the country’s highly competitive university entrance exam despite a viral resurgence that has forced authorities to toughen physical distancing rules.

Santa Claus gestures to visitors in their cars as they attend the Dodgers Holiday Festival, a physically distanced drive-thru light and performance event honouring the Dodgers’ World Series win and celebrating the holiday season at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles on Wednesday. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

The Education Ministry says about 493,430 students began taking the one-day test at about 1,380 test sites across South Korea on Thursday. It says the test sites include hospitals and other medical facilities where the 35 virus patients and hundreds of others placed under self-quarantine will take the exam.

Africa’s top public health official says 60 per cent of the continent’s population needs to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in the next two to three years. The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters that if it takes four to five years, “the virus will be endemic in our communities.”

Concerns are growing that the continent of 1.3 billion people will be near the end of the line in obtaining doses. Nkengasong isn’t sure whether vaccines will be available in Africa before the second quarter of next year. But he pushed back against vaccine misinformation, saying that “if I had my way today to take a flight to the U.K. and get that vaccine, I would be doing it right now.”

The continent now has well over 2.1 million confirmed virus cases and more than 52,000 COVID-19-related deaths.

South Africa on Thursday tightened some COVID-19 rules in the Eastern Cape province where infections are rising the most, curbing movement and gatherings, but decided against reinstating a nationwide lockdown.

In a televised address President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an enhanced curfew in the eastern Nelson Mandela Bay area, while indoor gatherings would be limited to 100 people and alcohol consumption in public is prohibited.

Iran, the hardest-hit nation in the Middle East, passed one million total COVID-19 cases on Thursday with 13,922 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said.

Ministry spokesperson Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 358 people had died from the coronavirus since Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 49,348.

Iran has introduced tougher measures to stem a third wave of coronavirus infections, including closing non-essential businesses and travel restrictions.

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