New Brunswick has stepped up restrictions in part of the province in the face of rising variant cases, with the province’s top doctor saying the goal is to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Edmundston area “before it gets an even stronger grip than it has now.”
In Atlantic Canada, health officials reported 34 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday — with the vast majority of them in New Brunswick. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said 24 of the 30 cases reported in New Brunswick on Thursday were in the Edmundston region, in the northwest of the province.
“Just when it seemed like things were getting better and we’re entering the last period of this pandemic, the game has changed again,” Russell said at a briefing announcing the circuit-breaker restrictions, which will be in place for at least four days. “And the game changer really is the variants.”
Variant cases are “really daunting” because of the increased transmissibility and the difficulty of keeping cases contained, she said.
Russell said the B117 strain first identified in the U.K. is responsible for 62 per cent of the cases in the Edmundston area.
Slowing the spread will require “a lot of interventions” and targeted actions, she said, but also a renewed effort and co-operation from the public as the province rolls out vaccines. Russell said New Brunswick is aiming to give every adult who wants a vaccine their first dose by mid-June.
Nova Scotia, meanwhile, reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while Prince Edward Island reported one new case.
There were no new cases reported in Newfoundland and Labrador, which as of Thursday had just one active case of COVID-19 and no patients in hospital.
–From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:26 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
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As of 10:35 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 953,737 cases of COVID-19, with 39,405 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,802.
Health officials across the country have been expressing concern about increasing case numbers linked to variants of concern. As of Thursday evening, a federal website that posts figures reported by the provinces and territories had reported more than 7,100 variant cases, including:
- 6,611 cases of the B117 variant first reported in the U.K.
- 257 cases of the B1351 variant first reported in South Africa.
- 236 cases of the P1 variant originally linked to tourists from Brazil.
Canada Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday that updated forecasting and data shows that COVID-19 “still has a few tricks in store.” She urged people to hold on and follow public health guidelines as vaccination efforts ramp up.
“While the news of increasing disease activity and shifting trends in severe outcomes is discouraging after so many months of sacrifice, we’ve made significant progress — and as the warmer days approach we’ll have more options to get outside as we work through this critical leg of the COVID-19 marathon,” Tam said.
“We are closer now than ever, but it is still too soon to relax measures and too soon to gather in areas where COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada.”
Ontario reported 2,169 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 12 additional deaths. Hospitalizations increased to 913, according to provincial data, with 359 in intensive care units. Reporting from Critical Care Services Ontario put the number of patients with COVID-19-related illness in the province’s ICUs even higher, at more than 400. (The number posted online by the province daily doesn’t include patients who have been in hospital for more than two weeks.)
The update comes a day after the scientific director of an expert panel advising the province said that a strict provincial shutdown, similar to one imposed when the pandemic hit, is needed to curb the alarming spread of variants in Ontario. Currently, even the strictest level of the province’s pandemic framework isn’t enough to reduce rising infections from more contagious variants, Dr. Peter Juni, of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told The Canadian Press.
“We need stronger, more strict public health measures to keep the new variants contained enough to avoid tremendous challenges for the health-care system.”
In Quebec, health officials reported 945 new cases and four additional deaths on Thursday. Hospitalizations stood at 496, with 117 COVID-19 patients listed as being in the province’s intensive care units.
Meanwhile, the province’s Health Department confirmed Thursday that Quebecers who’ve had a confirmed COVID-19 infection will only need a single dose of vaccine, which will act as an immunity booster.
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In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 111 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and one additional death.
In Saskatchewan, meanwhile, health officials reported 168 new cases and two additional deaths. In the Regina area, which is facing stepped up restrictions in the face of mounting variant cases, health officials said 84 per cent of the cases reported were variants of concern.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, said on Thursday that Regina is not the only part of the province seeing an increase in variant cases.
“This just reinforces that while we have significant measures in Regina right now, all of us all throughout Saskatchewan should continue to observe everything we’ve been doing,” he said. He urged people to be “very cautious” and shield people who are older and at higher risk.
Alberta reported 764 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and three additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 294, with 55 COVID-19 patients reported to be in intensive care.
In British Columbia, health officials reported 800 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and five additional deaths. In a statement, the province said of the active COVID-19 cases in the province, 306 were in hospital including 79 in intensive care.
Across the North, health officials in Yukon reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including its first known case of a variant of concern. In a statement, health officials said one of the cases, in a non-resident who travelled into the territory earlier this month, isn’t considered a local case.
“This is a reminder that Yukoners must remain vigilant. COVID-19 is always lurking around the corner,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley said in a statement.
There were no new cases reported in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories.
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 10:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 125.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which runs a coronavirus case-tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.
In Africa, Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday announced a halt to all movement in the capital, Nairobi, and four other countries on Friday as the COVID-19 outbreak reached its worst ever stage in East Africa’s richest economy.
In a televised address, Kenyatta said a wave of new lockdown measures, including a stricter curfew, the suspension of in-person schooling and the closing of bars in the capital, were essential to fight the COVID-19 spread.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia is considering diverting COVID-19 inoculations from its vaccination program to Papua New Guinea, where the coronavirus is threatening to unleash a humanitarian disaster, a government source said.
South Korea said it will extend its coronavirus distancing rules, which include an outside dining curfew and ban on gatherings of five or more people, for two weeks.
In Europe, a senior European Union official says 55 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered to EU member states in the second quarter of this year, starting next month.
The EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, says the bloc will receive another 120 million doses of the single-shot jabs between July and September.
Breton spoke Friday during a visit to a plant in northeastern Spain where the vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical company Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, is being bottled. It is one of four vaccines approved for use in the EU.
He said the EU will be producing two or three billion doses by end of year, making it the world’s top vaccine manufacturer, and allowing 70 per cent of the EU population to be inoculated by mid-July.
France’s president, meanwhile, said he has nothing to be sorry about for refusing to impose a third virus lockdown earlier this year, even as his country is now facing surging infections that are straining hospitals and more than 1,000 people with the virus are dying every week.
Emmanuel Macron’s government has stressed the importance of keeping children in school and businesses afloat as the pandemic stretches into a second year.
“We were right not to implement a lockdown in France at the end of January because we didn’t have the explosion of cases that every model predicted,” he said late Thursday night. “There won’t be a mea culpa from me. I don’t have remorse and won’t acknowledge failure.”
For months France has championed a “third way” between confinement and freedom, including a nationwide curfew and closing all restaurants, tourist sites, gyms, large shopping malls and some other businesses.
Many doctors and scientists have been urging the French government for weeks to impose stronger restrictions, notably because of the more contagious and more dangerous virus variant first identified in Britain.
“A zero-virus situation doesn’t exist and that’s true for every country in Europe. We’re not an island and even the islands who’d protected themselves sometimes saw the virus come back,” Macron said. “But we considered that with the curfew and the measures we had, we could cope.”
France has recorded the fourth-highest number of virus infections in the world, and among the highest death tolls, at 93,378. Intensive care units are again at or beyond capacity in Paris and several other regions because of a new surge of critically ill virus patients.
Norway will delay its decision on whether to resume the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, broadcaster TV2 reported.
In the Middle East, Lebanon’s private sector is stepping in to speed up the vaccination campaign against coronavirus by importing at least a million doses of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine. The move aims at reopening businesses around the small country that has been hit by an unprecedented economic crisis.
The first batch of 50,000 doses arrived early Friday, making Lebanon one of few nations where the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is being boosted by private sector initiatives. Lebanon, a tiny nation of six million people including around one million Syrian refugees, began its inoculation campaign in mid-February after finalizing a deal for some two million doses with Pfizer.
In the Americas, Colombia has approved emergency use of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, the director of food and drug regulator INVIMA said.
Argentina has decided to suspend flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico starting on Saturday to prevent variants of the coronavirus from entering the country.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10 a.m. ET
Novavax CFO Greg Covino to step down
(Reuters) – Novavax Inc said on Tuesday Greg Covino is stepping down as the chief financial officer due to personal reasons and would become an executive adviser to the U.S. vaccine developer.
Chief Business Officer John Trizzino will serve as the finance chief in the interim, with a search underway for Covino’s replacement.
The company also said it had brought in Troy Morgan as its chief compliance officer from EMD Serono Inc, the biopharmaceutical arm of Germany’s Merck KGaA in the United States and Canada. It also promoted Chief Scientist Gale Smith to senior vice president.
Novavax earlier on Tuesday said it had pushed back the timeline for hitting its production target of 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses per month until the third quarter due to supply shortages.
The company could receive UK regulatory authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine as early as this month after releasing impressive UK trial data. It expects U.S. clearance as early as May.
(Reporting by Dania Nadeem and Praveen Paramasivam in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath)
Air Canada shares close marginally lower after government takes equity stake
By Allison Lampert and Maiya Keidan
MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada stock ended marginally lower in volatile trading on Tuesday on concerns that existing shareholdings would be diluted after the federal government took an equity stake in the carrier as part of C$5.9 billion ($4.7 billion) in aid.
Analysts and investors said Air Canada‘s decision to accept the bigger-than-expected aid package was the right decision for Canada‘s largest carrier as it tries to cope with the crippling downturn in air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Definitely a positive development because it’s giving them access to a very attractively priced backstop credit facility at very reasonable terms,” said Catharine Sterritt, portfolio manager at CIBC Asset Management, a top shareholder.
The deal announced on Monday gives Ottawa a roughly 6% stake in the airline at a discount of 14%, which prompted several analysts to cut their price targets.
“We believe some investors could be negatively surprised by equity dilution and a repayable loan for refunds,” Scotiabank’s Konark Gupta wrote in a note, while reiterating a “sector perform” rating on the stock.
Air Canada shares opened more than 4% higher before sinking about 6.7% and closed down 0.44% at C$26.88 in Toronto.
“In spite of the dilution we see, we still see a path for this company to be worth in excess of at least C$40 when the COVID situation and the airline situation normalizes all a bit more,” Paul Younes, an investment analyst at Letko Brosseau and Associates, which holds the stock, told Bloomberg TV.
Canada is wrestling with soaring COVID-19 cases driven by coronavirus variants and a comparatively slower vaccination rollout than in the United States, raising questions about the reopening of air travel.
“The bigger issue for AC and its investors is the timing around the vaccine rollout and eventual lifting of travel restrictions, as most markets that have reopened show strong pent-up demand,” Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth said in a note.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday praised the deal with Air Canada as “good and fair.”
The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – came after the airline industry criticized Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling.
TD Securities analyst Tim James said the access to capital would prove to be insurance as opposed to necessary liquidity required to finance operations or capital expenditures in 2021 and beyond. He cut his target price on Air Canada to C$29 from C$31, while reaffirming a “hold” rating.
Air Canada would ease restrictions on future refunds for passengers, a key part of the government talks.
Canada‘s government also is engaged in aid talks with WestJet Airlines Ltd and Transat AT Inc.
($1 = 1.2589 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Maiya Keidan in Toronto; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)
Canada scraps export permits for drone technology to Turkey
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, said Foreign Minister Marc Garneau.
“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in a statement, adding he had raised his concerns with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Canada had suspended the permits last October.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren)