The World Health Organization says it has cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon get access to the shot already available in Europe and North America.
Every country that has a drug regulatory agency will have to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems usually rely on WHO to vet the shots.
The global body said late Thursday that the decision to issue its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine “opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”
The UN health agency said its review found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received clearance in the United States, Britain, Canada, the European Union and a dozen other countries, “met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set out by WHO.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the required freezers and reliable electricity supply may not be available.
“This requirement makes the vaccine more challenging to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible,” WHO said, adding that it was “working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible.”
What’s happening across Canada
WATCH | Mandatory COVID-19 tests add turbulence between airlines, Ottawa:
Quebec, the hardest-hit province in Canada, exceeded 200,000 COVID-19 infections on Thursday after reporting a record 2,819 new cases — a record single-day high.
Health officials in the province also reported 62 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, bringing the provincial death toll to 8,226. Hospitalizations stood at 1,175 with 165 people in intensive care units.
Quebec also said Thursday that it’s changing its COVID-19 vaccine strategy in order to vaccinate as many people as possible instead of holding doses back for booster shots — a practice already in place in several other provinces.
As of Thursday, the province had received 87,000 doses of vaccine and has administered 29,250 injections.
Quebec wasn’t the only province to shatter its single-day COVID-19 case record on Thursday — Ontario reported 3,328 cases of COVID-19, becoming the first province to report more than 3,000 cases in a single day.
As of early Friday morning, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 580,195, with 74,777 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,605.
British Columbia’s provincial health officer on Thursday urged people to start 2021 by following COVID-19 precautions to prevent a surge in cases similar to those in other jurisdictions.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said persistence under adversity during 2020 has helped save lives, but some sacrifices must continue before more people can be vaccinated. She said 17,510 people in every region of the province have had their first dose of a vaccine, mostly the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Here’s a look at what’s happening with COVID-19 across the country:
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening in the U.S.
Florida health authorities late Thursday reported finding evidence of the latest U.S. case of the new and apparently more contagious coronavirus strain first seen in England, saying it was detected in a man with no recent travel history.
The case, disclosed in a Florida Health Department statement tweeted on its HealthyFla site, comes after reports in recent days of two individual cases of the new strain of COVID-19 discovered in Colorado and California.
Florida’s health statement said the new virus variant was detected in a man in his 20s in Martin County, which abuts the Atlantic Coast above densely populated South Florida. The health department did not give further details, such as releasing the man’s medical condition or how the strain was detected.
California on Wednesday announced the nation’s second confirmed case of the new virus strain. The announcement came 24 hours after word of the first reported variant infection in the U.S., which emerged in Colorado — in a National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak.
Scientists in the U.K. believe the variant is more contagious than previously identified strains. The cases have triggered questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.
The U.S. has been dealing with rising case numbers and a vaccination effort that hasn’t moved forward as quickly as officials hoped. More than 19.9 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the U.S. and the country has seen more than 345,000 deaths.
In Wisconsin, authorities arrested a suburban Milwaukee pharmacist Thursday suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing them from refrigeration. Police in Grafton, about 32 kilometres north of Milwaukee, said the Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist was arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property, all felonies.
The pharmacist has been fired and police said in a news release that he was in jail. Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged. His motive remains unclear. Police said that detectives believe he knew the spoiled doses would be useless and people who received them would mistakenly think they’d been vaccinated when they hadn’t.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:20 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 83.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 47.1 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
In Europe, British medics warned Friday that hospitals around the country face a perilous few weeks amid surging new coronavirus infections that have been blamed on a new variant of the virus.
A day after the U.K. posted a record 55,892 new infections and another 964 coronavirus-related deaths, concerns are mounting about the impact on the overstretched National Health Service. Field hospitals that were constructed in the early days of the pandemic but that were subsequently mothballed are being reactivated.
The Royal College of Nursing’s England director, Mike Adams, told Sky News that the U.K. was in the “eye of the storm” and that it was “infuriating” to see people not following physical distancing guidance or wearing masks.
A leading physician also warned of burnout among health workers on the front line of the outbreak in hospitals, while also urging people to follow the rules.
“I am worried,” Adrian Boyle, vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told the BBC. “We are very much at battle stations.”
New infections have more than doubled in recent weeks after a new variant that health experts have said appears to be significantly more contagious was found to be behind a big spike in cases around London and the southeast of England.
Given the lags between new cases and hospitalizations and subsequent deaths, there are huge concerns about the path of the pandemic over the coming month or two in a country that has Europe’s second-highest virus-related death toll at nearly 74,000.
As a result of the spike, which has spread around the country and seen lockdown restrictions tightened, the strategy around the rollout of vaccines has been changed to get more people an initial jab as soon as possible, with a scheduled second one delayed.
In a joint statement Thursday, the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, said the first vaccine dose offers “substantial” protection.
Currently, two vaccines have been approved for use in the U.K.
Just under 1 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech, with a small minority also getting the second dose as planned after 21 days.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines will prohibit the entry of foreign travelers from the United States effective Jan. 3, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson said on Friday, after the more infectious new variant of the coronavirus was detected in Florida.
The travel ban, until Jan. 15, covers those who have been to the United States within 14 days preceding arrival in the Philippines, spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement. The measure expands the travel restriction that Manila announced on Tuesday, which initially covered passengers from 19 countries and territories — including Canada — and took effect as of midnight on Dec. 29.
Due to <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a>, the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Philippines?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Philippines</a> is not allowing entry to travellers arriving from <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Canada?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Canada</a>, from December 30 to January 15. These restrictions could be extended.<br> <a href=”https://t.co/l6c54LdZ9O”>https://t.co/l6c54LdZ9O</a> <a href=”https://t.co/PWvvaiy6ax”>pic.twitter.com/PWvvaiy6ax</a>
Two major airports in northeastern China are requiring departing passengers to show a negative coronavirus test taken over the previous 72 hours before they can board their planes.
The requirements by the Shenyang and Dalian come amid a small but persistent growth in cases in the two cities located in Liaoning province just north of the capital Beijing. Four new cases were announced Friday in Liaoning, along with another five cases in Beijing, where emergency testing was ordered for more than a million people following the detection of a small cluster in the northeastern suburbs.
Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s annual Lunar New Year holiday.
The Thai capital is shutting down venues including schools and entertainment parks as coronavirus cases continue to spread. Thailand reported 279 new cases on Friday including two deaths.
In the Americas, Brazil reported more than 1,000 deaths from the coronavirus for a third day in a row. Brazil has seen more than 7.6 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 195,000 deaths.
In Africa, Chad has locked down its capital N’djamena for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic and has declared a dusk to dawn curfew due to a rise in infections.
In the Middle East, Israel said it has vaccinated 1 million people against COVID-19, more than a tenth of its population, as it rolls out one of the world’s earliest and most rapid inoculation campaigns.
Iranian media said Thursday the country is negotiating the purchase of coronavirus vaccines from China. The semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi as saying: “We are reaching agreement with China for buying 4 million doses.”
Vaezi said the process would take around two months. Iran has already discussed buying vaccines from both Russia and India. China on Thursday authorized the Sinopharm vaccine for general use, after it had already approved its use earlier to health-care professionals and essential workers under emergency-use guidelines. Vaezi said Iran will also buy 16.5 vaccines from COVAX, the global vaccine consortium.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 8:25 a.m. ET
Canada working with the U.S. to close travel 'loophole' – CTV News
Canadian officials said Friday they are working with the Biden administration to close what they describe as a travel “loophole” and to get more symmetry with COVID-19 safety protocols between the two countries.
“A loophole, frankly, does exist because the Americans previously had not placed any restriction on international flights coming into the U.S.,” said Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety minister, during a news conference Friday.
“That concerns us because that restriction is at our land border but not at air travel,” he added.
While the Canada-U.S. border remains closed and all nonessential travel is prohibited until at least February 21, in the 10 months since the border restrictions were put in place, hundreds of thousands of travelers have made discretionary trips between both countries as air travel has not so far been subject to the same restrictions.
With the United States not imposing any air travel restrictions from Canada, the loophole has allowed everything from Canadian snowbirds going to the warm climes of Florida and Arizona for winter to family members on both sides of the border setting up nonessential visits.
TRUDEAU TO CANADIANS: AVOID TRAVEL
On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau underscored his plea to Canadians to stay home and avoid travel of any kind, including domestic and international travel.
Trudeau has acknowledged that constitutionally he cannot prevent Canadians from traveling, but he did warn that it might soon become much more difficult to return to Canada.
“We could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada, at any given moment, without warning,” Trudeau said during a news conference Friday, adding, “The bottom line is this: This is not the time to travel either internationally or across the country.”
International air travelers who currently enter Canada must show proof of a negative test result for COVID-19 taken within 72 hours of departure and are also subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine with violators facing stiff financial penalties. There are exceptions for essential workers.
LOOKING FOR MORE MEASURES
Canadian officials say they are looking for more measures that would discourage as much travel as possible, and they are hoping a new agreement with the United States will help.
“We are looking at a number of measures that can include further restrictions on international travel, additional tracing measures, additional quarantine measures and enforcement measures in order to de-incentivize and discourage people from making unnecessary trips,” Blair said Friday.
Officials also indicated that weeks of lockdowns throughout most of Canada are slowly starting to work with new daily cases of COVID-19 falling.
“This gives us hope that community based control measures are starting to take effect,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. “But it is still too soon to be sure that these measures are strong enough and broad enough to set us on a steady downward trend.”
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged Canadians to hold off on travelling abroad until mass vaccinations against COVID-19 can be administered.
“If you’ve got [a trip] planned, cancel it, and don’t book a trip for spring break. We need to hang on and hold tight for the next few months and get through to the spring in the best shape possible,” Trudeau said on Friday.
The federal government is mulling a mandatory 14-day quarantine in hotels for returning travellers, as well as other measures that could make it more difficult to re-enter the country, he said.
WATCH | The challenges of vaccinating the vulnerable in Canada’s North:
“We could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada at any given moment without warning,” Trudeau warned.
Public Health Agency of Canada figures show 153 flights have arrived from outside Canada over the last two weeks on which at least one passenger later tested positive for COVID-19.
Transport Canada now requires people flying into the country to present a negative test result conducted within 72 hours of boarding a plane.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu on Friday said 50,000 tickets for international travel have been cancelled since the new rule was announced on Dec. 31.
Trudeau said these requirements are starting to convince Canadians to stay put.
WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions on first full day in office:
The prime minister added that the next few weeks will be challenging for vaccine supply as Pfizer-BioNTech slows deliveries to Canada and other countries while the company retools its plant in Belgium. Trudeau said Pfizer-BioNTech has committed to ensuring Canada will receive four million vaccine doses by the end of March.
Provinces have reported that a total of 738,864 vaccine doses have been administered so far. That’s about 80 per cent of the available supply.
British Columbia’s oldest residents will be able to pre-register to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 starting in March after the most vulnerable groups have been immunized, according to a plan announced Friday.
WATCH | British Columbia lays out details of COVID-19 vaccine rollout:
April is when the vaccine becomes available for the general population in B.C., starting with the oldest residents and descending in five-year increments until age 18 by September. People who register for the plan will get a reminder to book appointments when eligible,
The province is currently administering the vaccine to people living in long-term care homes and those who look after them or their essential visitors, people waiting for long-term care, people in remote Indigenous communities and hospital workers caring for patients with COVID-19.
They will be followed in February and March by seniors over 80, Indigenous seniors over 65, Indigenous elders, more health-care workers, vulnerable populations and nursing home staff.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had reported 739,766 cases of COVID-19, with 65,032 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,880.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The Edmundston region in the northwest will go into lockdown on Saturday at midnight amid climbing case numbers and a series of outbreaks.
Nova Scotia reported four new cases — and Premier Stephen McNeil said the province also detected two variants of the virus in cases previously reported in December. Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case on Friday; there is currently one person hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the province.
Quebec reported 1,631 new cases and 88 additional deaths on Friday, 18 of which occurred in the last 24 hours.
There were 1,426 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, with 212 in intensive care. Premier François Legault said on Thursday that there were still too many COVID-19 patients in hospital to consider lifting the provincewide curfew.
Ontario reported 2,359 new COVID-19 cases and 52 more deaths on Saturday. That’s down from 2,662 new COVID-19 cases and 87 more deaths reported on Friday.
Ontario is reporting 2,359 cases of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> and nearly 63,500 tests completed. Locally, there are 708 new cases in Toronto, 422 in Peel, 220 in York Region, 107 in Hamilton and 101 in Ottawa.
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:
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 Long Term Care 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 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:
Manitoba reported 173 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths on Friday. The province also announced it will immediately halt bookings of new appointments at its immunization supersites in Winnipeg and Brandon after the federal government advised of another reduction in shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Saskatchewan reported 312 new cases and eight deaths on Friday, while Alberta reported 643 new cases and 12 deaths.
British Columbia reported 508 new cases of COVID-19 and nine more deaths on Friday.
In the North, Nunavut reported one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, the territory’s first case since Dec. 28.
The positive result is in Arviat and was part of followup surveillance testing in response to the earlier outbreak, said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday morning, more than 98.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 54.2 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to the coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.
In Asia, thousands of Hong Kong residents were locked down in their homes on Saturday in an unprecedented move to contain a worsening coronavirus outbreak.
Authorities said 16 buildings in the city’s Yau Tsim Mong district would be locked down until all residents were tested. Residents would not be allowed to leave their homes until they received test results.
The restrictions, which were announced at 4 a.m. in Hong Kong, were expected to end within 48 hours, the government said.
Hong Kong has been grappling to contain a fresh wave of the coronavirus since November. More than 4,300 cases have been recorded in the last two months, making up nearly 40 per cent of the city’s total.
WATCH | CBC goes inside unique inoculation site in U.K:
In Europe, French doctors have new advice to slow the spread of the virus: stop talking on public transport.
The French Academy of Doctors issued guidance on Friday saying people should “avoid talking or making phone calls” in subways, buses or anywhere in public where physical distancing isn’t possible. Masks have been required since May, but travellers often loosen or remove them to talk on the phone.
Infections in France are gradually rising this month, at more than 20,000 per day. France currently has the longest virus curfew in Europe, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and restaurants and tourist sites have been closed since October.
France has seen 72,647 virus-related deaths.
Canada adds 206 new COVID-19 deaths while officials consider mandatory hotel quarantine – Global News
Another 5,957 cases of COVID-19 were reported by Canada on Friday as government officials considered a mandatory hotel quarantine for all incoming travelers.
The announcement comes amid news of at least one passenger aboard one of the 153 flights that arrived in the country over the last weeks testing positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Current health protocols require people flying into the country to present a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 72 hours of boarding a plane bound for Canada as well as a mandatory two-week quarantine on arrival, but the government is still considering further options to make it harder to return from trips abroad in light of the pandemic.
News of Canada considering further restrictions on incoming travelers comes as the country’s top doctor warned that easing the country’s virus restrictions could rapidly cause new case of the virus to increase again.
“Every day we are one step closer and better times are ahead. But there is no fast track. We must stick with public health measures and individual practices that we know are effective for controlling spread. Unless and until infection rates are low enough to allow public health authorities to test, trace and isolate effectively, easing of restrictions risks even stronger resurgence,” said Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in a statement Friday.
Coronavirus: Dr. Bonnie outlines B.C.’s mass immunization plan
“This is why we must all continue to do our part to slow the spread: that means postponing vacation travel to a better time in the future.”
Canada’s total COVID-19 caseload now stands at 737,407 following the release of Friday’s case data. Another 206 deaths linked to the virus were also announced on Friday, with Canada’s COVID-19 death toll now standing at 18,828.
At least 651,000 patients have since recovered from COVID-19 however, while more than 21,041,000 tests have been administered to date. A total of 769,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have also been administered across the country so far.
Coronavirus: Tam reports 31 cases of U.K. variant, 3 cases of South Africa variant of COVID-19 in Canada
Ontario reported another 2,662 cases of COVID-19 Friday, as well as another 87 deaths. While daily case numbers in the province have decreased slightly in comparison to last week, Ontario is still on track to surpass Quebec as the province with the highest number of confirmed cases this weekend.
Quebec, which has been under a province-wide curfew for almost two weeks, reported another 1,631 infections and 88 deaths on Friday.
B.C. added another 508 cases on Friday, as well as another nine deaths linked to the virus. The coastal province’s total caseload now stands at 63,484, of which 565 are considered “epi-linked” — patients who were in close proximity to confirmed infections and display symptoms, but were never formally tested.
Alberta announced another 643 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as well as 12 additional deaths from the virus. A total of 691 Albertans are also currently in hospital with COVID-19, of which 115 are in ICU.
Manitoba added another 171 cases on Friday, as well as two more deaths. In Saskatchewan, eight more deaths were recorded, as well as another 305 confirmed infections.
Several Atlantic provinces reported new cases Friday as well, with Nova Scotia adding another four COVID-19 infections, New Brunswick reporting another 30 and Newfoundland and Labrador reporting just one.
Nunavut reported a single case on Friday as well, its first infections since Dec. 28. Both the Yukon and the Northwest Territories as well as P.E.I. reported new COVID-19 cases on Friday.
Worldwide, cases of the novel coronavirus continue to increase with a total of 98,112,625 patients having been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Over 2,104,000 people have since died, with the U.S., India and Brazil leading in both cases and deaths.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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