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Canada surpasses half a million COVID-19 cases

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TORONTO —
Canada has now recorded more than half a million cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the global pandemic, adding more than 100,000 cases in the last two weeks.

The grim milestone came after Saskatchewan reported 252 new cases of the disease today, bringing the national tally to 500,242.

Quebec also set a new case record Saturday after reporting 2,038 new cases and 44 more deaths, the province’s highest single-day jump since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile Ontario logged more than 2,300 new cases, as well as 27 more deaths.

The country’s caseload has been rapidly accelerating during the second wave of the pandemic, prompting several provinces and regions to issue new lockdown measures ahead of the holiday season.

Canada recorded it’s 400,000 case of COVID-19 just 15 days ago on Dec. 4. The country’s 300,000th case was only recorded 18 days before that, on Nov. 16.

Comparatively, it took six months for Canada to record its first 100,000 cases of COVID-19 and four months to reach the 200,000 threshold.

On Friday, Canada recorded 14,000 total deaths.

The new benchmark takes place at a pivotal point in the Canadian pandemic. This week, the first COVID-19 vaccines were injected into the arms of Canadians, with federal officials pushing manufacturers to accelerate shipments.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Friday that vaccines won’t reach the broader population fast enough for a Christmas miracle, urging Canadians to limit the size of their holiday celebrations as calls for broader lockdowns grow.

“As much as many of us want to see our loved ones this Christmas … we also want to be able to see them and give them big hugs next Christmas,” Trudeau told reporters.

With the average caseload rising at an average of more than 6,650 infections reported daily over the past seven days, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has called for stricter measures across the country “as soon as possible” to deter holiday gatherings.

Tam noted that the number of people experiencing severe illness is also on the rise, with an average of 4,000 patients being treated in hospital over the past week, including 650 in critical care and 115 deaths reported each day.​

– With files from the Canadian Press 

Source: – CTV News

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Canada's top judge is now acting Governor General, but expert urges speedy replacement – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Julie Payette’s resignation amid allegations of workplace harassment means that the chief justice of the Supreme Court will now assume the governor general’s powers, but a Crown expert says this temporary appointment should be as brief as possible as it presents potential conflicts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted Payette’s resignation on Thursday following reports of a workplace harassment investigation that sources described to CTV News as “damaging.”

Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner will fulfill the role of administrator on an interim basis until Trudeau recommends a new governor general to the Queen, something Trudeau says he will do “in due course.”

Philippe Lagasse, a Carleton University expert on the Westminster system and the Crown, described Payette’s resignation as “a bit sad, really,” and stressed the importance of limiting the amount of time Wagner stays in this role.

“I have to say, as somebody who is concerned about how offices appear in public, it’s really not ideal to have the chief justice of the Supreme Court act as an administrator for any long period of time,” Lagasse told CTV’s Power Play on Thursday.

The reason: the Governor General is in charge of turning bills into law through royal assent. Having an active Supreme Court judge in this role could be potentially problematic down the road, Lagasse said.

“We can think in our constitutional metaphysics that they’re wearing a different hat when they’re providing royal assent, you can imagine that it could create discomfort on the part of the judge who wants to be seem completely and utterly impartial if ever that legislation appears before them in a constitutional or legal challenge,” he said.

Asked about the timeline to replace Payette, intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said “obviously it’s not a question of months.”

“The constitutional role can be fulfilled as of tonight by Chief Justice Wagner and until a successor is sworn in,” LeBlanc told CTV’s Power Play.

“We obviously haven’t turned our attention to the details of how that successor would be recommended to Her Majesty, but we’ll have more to say about that in the coming days. But it’s not a circumstance that can go on for months and months.”

The Governor General holds the second-highest office in Canada after the Queen, with the role out-ranking even the prime minister. That’s because the Governor General can be called on to make decisions related to the formation of government, such as to prorogue Parliament or dissolve Parliament on the advice of a prime minister to trigger an election.

The Governor General also plays a key role in minority governments, as is the current case. If a minority government loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons, the prime minister would then have to request Parliament be dissolved. The Governor General then has the discretion whether to agree to that, and call an election, or allow another party in the House to attempt to form a government that would have the confidence of the House.

For example, in 2008, Stephen Harper asked then-Governor General Michaelle Jean to prorogue Parliament to avoid a non-confidence vote that he was expected to lose, which she allowed.

Everything considered, Lagasse said it’s in the country’s best interests to appoint a new Governor General pronto.

“To the extent possible, we should have a full-on governor general appointed as soon as possible, given the possibility of an election on the horizon,” he said.

“And ultimately, I would imagine the chief justice is not really keen on the idea of having to make some of these decisions and make some of the calls, particularly if another election returns another hung Parliament, and if there’s controversy around a dissolution of Parliament in the middle of a pandemic. These are all things that I imagine the chief justice doesn’t want to be particularly involved with either.”

CTV royal commentator Richard Berthelsen said that the Governor General plays a critical constitutional role in Canada as a representative of the Queen, but is also seen as a moral leader.

“So this really was a day that, in a lot of ways, had to happen. It’s sad that it has happened, but the report has left everyone with no alternative,” Berthelsen told CTV News Channel.

With files from CTV’s Rachel Aiello in Ottawa and The Canadian Press

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Coronavirus infections may be about to hit a plateau in the United States based on recent seven-day averages, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, though the top U.S. infectious disease expert cautioned the country was still in a “very serious situation” with the virus.

At a White House briefing Thursday, Fauci also said that if 70 to 80 per cent of Americans are vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could experience “a degree of normality” by the fall.

The pandemic has killed 410,000 people and infected more than 24.6 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. 

Fauci said coronavirus vaccines can be modified to account for new variants of the virus, and that while the variant first identified in South Africa is concerning, it does not appear to be in the United States.

People are processed at the entrance to an empty department store being used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Chula Vista, Calif., on Thursday. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Another highly transmissible variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom has spread to at least 20 U.S. states, Fauci said.

Fauci said he expects current vaccines will be effective against the recently discovered virus mutations.

“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it for our alternative plans if we have to ever modify the vaccine,” he said. “But right now, from the reports we have … it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them.”

The United States still has a limited ability to track the presence of new variants in its population, he noted.

Biden sets COVID-19 plan into motion

Fauci praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to “let the science speak” in contrast to the previous Trump administration, standing by his side earlier Thursday as Biden unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office.

“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.

WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions:

On U.S. President Joe Biden’s first full day in office, he signed an executive order for new international travel restrictions, which will make it tougher for Canadians to cross the border. Biden is expected to lay out more details tomorrow, during his phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 2:38

Biden also made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives,” he said.

Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.

The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defence Production Act,” according to the plan.

The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.

Members of the West Virginia National Guard monitor statewide efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines at the National Guard Joint Forces headquarters in Charleston, W.Va., on Jan. 14. West Virginia has used 72 per cent of the doses it has received to date, a relative success amid a sluggish vaccine rollout in the U.S. (John Raby/The Associated Press)

The president has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.

As of Thursday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 17.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine out of some 38 million distributed.

Biden has also rescinded Trump’s planned withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

The new president has put fighting the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice, and has proposed a $1.9-trillion US COVID-19 package that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from the coronavirus.

The House of Representatives is planning to bring the bill to a vote the first week of February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.

– From Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

As of 7 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 725,495 cases of COVID-19, with 68,413 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,462.

In Ontario, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall as the province reported 2,632 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, along with 46 more deaths.

While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.

WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says: 

Dr. Christopher Labos says research on mutated strains of the virus is too preliminary to draw firm conclusions. 1:38

Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.

The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.

At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.

WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:

An Ontario panel says the province failed residents of long-term care homes by not prioritizing them for COVID-19 vaccinations and the decision cost hundreds of lives. 1:58

Alberta, like Ontario, has seen its long-term care homes particularly hit hard during the pandemic.

To date, 988 of the province’s 1,500 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.

CapitalCare Lynnwood in west Edmonton is the site of Alberta’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 55 lives lost. A total of 262 cases have been linked to the outbreak, Alberta Health said in a statement to CBC News.

WATCH | Other COVID-19 vaccines awaiting approval could mean more choice:

The federal government is still evaluating other COVID-19 vaccines, including from AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson, which could be approved within weeks. The vaccines in the pipeline work differently and some Canadians hope that might give them a choice about which vaccine to get. 2:05

New Brunswick continues to see a spike in COVID-19 infections, reporting 32 new cases on Thursday as officials declared an outbreak at another Edmundston care home.

At a COVID-19 briefing, the province’s chief medical officer of health said the situation in the Edmundston region remains “gravely concerning.”

There are now 113 cases in that area, “the largest number of any zone in the province,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell.

Premier Blaine Higgs said that a complete lockdown of the Edmundston region has been discussed and looks “likely” to happen in the days ahead.

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

– From CBC News, last updated at 9:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

As of early Friday morning, more than 97.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 53.8 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea reported 346 new cases on Friday, its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in two months as officials express cautious hope that the country is beginning to emerge from its worst wave of the pandemic.

Health authorities have clamped down on private social gatherings since late December, including setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people. The 1,241 infections reported on Christmas Day were the country’s largest 24-hour jump of the pandemic.

Bottles of hand sanitizer are displayed for use at a park in Goyang, South Korea, on Friday. Daily infections have slowed in the country after tougher rules were imposed in December to slow a virus surge that erased months of hard-won gains. (Ahn Young-joon/The Associated Press)

In Africa, Mali plans to buy more than 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and expects to start a vaccination campaign in April, the council of ministers said in a statement on Thursday.

The sprawling country of about 20 million has recorded just over 7,900 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins.

In the Middle East, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that China had approved delivery of a second consignment of the CoronaVac vaccine and 10 million doses could arrive in Turkey by this weekend.

A woman receives a shot of Sinovac’s CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine at a nursing home in Ankara, Turkey, on Tuesday. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Turkey has already received an initial consignment of three million doses of the vaccine, produced by Sinovac Biotech, and has so far vaccinated more than 1.1 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people.

In the Americas, Mexico has posted new one-day highs for the pandemic, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths related to COVID-19.

Mexico has recorded over 1.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 146,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. However, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.

Officials also said Thursday that hospitals remained at 89 per cent capacity in Mexico City, which is the current centre of the pandemic in Mexico.

A man walks through a disinfection chamber while pulling oxygen tanks for his relatives infected with COVID-19, as part of a city government free refill program, at the municipality of Iztapalapa in Mexico City on Monday. (Toya Sarno Jordan/Reuters)

In Europe, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England decreased slightly in the latest week but prevalence overall remained high, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday.

The ONS estimated that around one in 55 people had COVID-19 within the community population in England in the week ending Jan. 16, a lower prevalence than the estimate of one in 50 people in the last full infection survey published two weeks ago.

– From The Associated Press, last updated at 8:45 a.m. ET

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Trudeau spoke with Pfizer CEO amid concerns of vaccine delays – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with the CEO of Pfizer Global on Thursday and was assured that, despite an ongoing delay in vaccine deliveries, the company will follow through on millions of vaccine shipments due in March.

News of Trudeau’s conversation with CEO Dr. Albert Bourla comes as officials overseeing the vaccine rollout release new projections as they work to assure Canadians that the current shipment slowdown won’t hamper the country’s long-term schedule.

“Today, I spoke with the CEO of Pfizer Global, Dr. Bourla, about the timely delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to Canada,” Trudeau tweeted Thursday. “He assured me that we’ll receive 4 million doses by the end of March. We’ll keep working together to ensure Canadians can get a vaccine as soon as possible.”

Officials overseeing the vaccine rollout say Canada remains on schedule, although the country will see a short-term drop in supply in the coming weeks.

Projections released Thursday by federal health officials suggest that Canada will be able to vaccinate 3 million people by the end of March, accounting for eight per cent of the entire population. Even if Canada doesn’t approve any more vaccines by the fall, estimates suggest that doses from Pfizer and Moderna will cover 13 million Canadians, or 34 per cent, by June and 36 million, or 95 per cent, by September 30.

While the long-term plan remains on track, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout, said Canada is only getting about one-third of the expected deliveries between this week and Feb. 7. Canada is set to receive no new deliveries of doses next week and 79,000 Pfizer doses in the first week of February.

This delay will impact Canada’s short-term vaccine supply, but Fortin said future shipments are expected to make up for the shortage.

“To that end, we expect a rapid scale-up of deliveries in the upcoming weeks following this current supply disruption,” Fortin said at a press conference.

Pfizer advised Canada last week that upgrades to its plant in Belgium would temporarily slow production and reduce doses delivered to every country except the United States, which has its own production facility. Canada can expect to see its deliveries cut in half over four weeks, the company initially said, with the factory returning to full production on Feb. 15.

The next shipment of Moderna vaccines is due in the first week of February and will include an estimated 230,400 doses. Overall, Canada expects to receive 6 million doses of both vaccines by the end of March.

Canada’s vaccine rollout could happen faster if more vaccines are approved. The projections suggest that, based on all vaccines Canada has procured but have yet to be approved, as many as 23 million Canadians could be vaccinated between April and June, accounting for 61 per cent of the population. Canada could have enough doses for up to 73 million people between July on September. In such a scenario, there would be more than enough vaccines for everyone who wants one.

Fortin described those estimates as “planning data” meant to give provinces and territories an idea of what to expect if everything goes better than expected.

“The last thing we want to do is put jurisdictions in a place where we have additional doses coming and we hadn’t factored that in early to our planning,” he said.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said that, while the government’s overall timeline for vaccines hasn’t changed, there is always the possibility of unexpected supply issues or new vaccine approvals.

In the meantime, the best thing Canadians can do while they wait for the vaccine is to follow public health guidelines, Dr. Njoo said.

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