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

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The latest:

British health officials 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.

The United Kingdom recorded a further 53,285 cases of COVID-19 and 613 deaths on Friday, the fourth day running that it has topped 50,000 cases, official data showed. The rise in cases compares with the 55,892 that were reported on Thursday, while the death tally marks a fall from the 964 reported the day before.

Concerns are mounting about the impact on the overstretched National Health Service. Field hospitals 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.

Medics transport a patient from an ambulance to the Royal London Hospital as the spread of COVID-19 continues in London, sparking concern about the state of the health-care system. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

“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.

Alongside the approval earlier this week of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, a new dosing regimen was outlined, aimed at providing a speedier rollout. This means the second dose of both vaccines now will be within 12 weeks of the first.

The four medical officers said they were “confident” the first dose of both vaccines would provide “substantial” protection.

“In the short term, the additional increase of vaccine efficacy from the second dose is likely to be modest; the great majority of the initial protection from clinical disease is after the first dose of vaccine,” they said.

The new plan has faced widespread criticism, with the U.K.’s main union for doctors warning that delaying the second dose causes huge problems for thousands of partially vaccinated elderly and vulnerable people.

“It is grossly and patently unfair to tens of thousands of our most at-risk patients to now try to reschedule their appointments,” said Richard Vautrey from the British Medical Association.

From The Associated Press and Reuters last updated at 10:55 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Mandatory COVID-19 tests add turbulence between airlines, Ottawa:

The federal government has set Jan. 7 as the date when airline passengers will require a negative COVID-19 test before entering Canada. The decision has added turbulence to the already fraught relationship between Ottawa and the airlines. 1:56

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.

Hundreds of people waited in line at Lakes Park Regional Library to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Fort Myers, Fla., earlier this week. (Andrew West/The News-Press/USA Today Network/Reuters)

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.

Medical staff member Diana Isabel Escalante talks to a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit on New Year’s Eve at the United Memorial Medical Center on in Houston, Texas. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

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

A sign that reads ‘Happy Year 2021’ is seen inside an intensive care unit where patients with COVID-19 are treated at Hospital General on New Year’s Eve in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

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.

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.”

In Europe, France’s nationwide overnight curfew to limit coronavirus infections is being extended by two extra hours in 15 regions in the east of the country where cases have been surging.All travellers entering Norway will have to take a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of arrival from Jan. 2, the country’s justice ministry said.

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.

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.

A woman checks her temperature as she visits a popular entertainment street to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Bangkok during the coronavirus pandemic in Thailand. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

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 10:45 a.m. ET

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Robinhood, Interactive Brokers clamp down on high-flying stocks – BNN

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Robinhood Markets and Interactive Brokers Group Inc. took steps Thursday to curtail trading in several high-flying stocks, including GameStop Corp. and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.

Robinhood restricted transactions on those stocks and others, according to a blog post. Interactive Brokers said it wouldn’t allow clients to take new options positions in names incuding AMC, GameStop and BlackBerry Ltd.

“In addition, long stock positions will require 100 per cent margin and short stock positions will require 300 per cent margin until further notice,” Interactive Brokers said in a statement.

Robinhood also restricted trading in shares of Nokia Oyj, which climbed 20 per cent over the past three days.

“We’re committed to helping our customers navigate this uncertainty,” Robinhood said in the blog post.

Reddit users helped fuel a blistering rally in GameStop, the video game retailer, burning short sellers and hedge funds. The stock, which ended the year at US$18.84 a share, posted whopping gains, climbing as high US$513.12 in early trading Thursday. The stock rose 2.7 per cent to US$357.02 at 9:45 a.m. in New York.

The episode pitted enthusiastic amateurs against professional traders, resulting in billions of dollars of losses for hedge funds that were forced to close out their positions.

On Wednesday, Charles Schwab Corp.’s TD Ameritrade also curtailed transactions on GameStop, AMC and other securities. Amid the heightened volatility, trading platforms including TD Ameritrade, Robinhood, Schwab and Fidelity all experienced technical problems.

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'We love this stock': GameStop effect spreads as calls for probe build – CTV News

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The battle between small-time traders and hedge funds that has shaken U.S. and European stock markets moved into Asia on Thursday, with surges in several Australian companies joining a list of social-media hyped moves that have cost financial institutions billions of dollars.

Heavily shorted Australian shares, including Webjet and Tassal Group, climbed more than 5% even as Sydney’s benchmark ASX 200 index fell 2%.

In New York, GameStop, the video game chain at the heart of the slugfest between Wall Street and Main Street, added another 37% in early trading after a two-week, 1,700% surge that has hammered fund investors who were betting the stock would fall.

Driven by an army of individual traders who work through online brokerage apps like Robinhood.com and discuss stocks on anonymous social media messaging boards, the dramatic jump in the stock price of companies including GameStop, BlackBerry Ltd and AMC Corp drew more calls for regulatory scrutiny from commentators.

“The frenzy raises all sorts of questions with respect to possible market manipulation,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at retail broker CMC Markets U.K.

“It is already illegal for institutions to coordinate in the manner currently being seen in moving prices on these stocks, raising questions about the legality of what is currently taking place right now on these forums.”

The short squeeze – where traders have to abandon loss-making “short” bets on a stock falling because it has instead risen – also fuelled a 2% slide in the benchmark S&P 500 on Wednesday as investors sold other assets to cover their losses.

Futures tracking the main New York index were down another 0.6% on Thursday.

Reddit discussion threads were again humming with chatter about the stocks on Thursday as membership of the trader-focused group WallStreetBets raced past 4 million.

In one discussion, thousands of participants responded “We love this stock” to a post that called for more buying of GameStop and cast retail traders as Iron Man against a hedge fund Thanos in a nod to the superhero movie “Avengers: Endgame.”

BlackBerry and Nokia, however, slipped more than 5% in premarket trading after recording hefty gains this week and derivatives positioning pointed to a greater rise in the number of orders betting GameStop would fall.

“The idea that this is about hedge fund short-sellers transferring funds to a mass of ordinary retail buyers is a compelling story,” said Paul Donovan, chief economist of UBS Global Wealth Management.

“But it is also a story that is unlikely to hold true beyond the brief period of the frenzy.”

GAME ON

The war began last week when famed short seller Andrew Left of Citron Capital bet against GameStop and was met with a barrage of retail traders betting the other way. He said on Wednesday he had abandoned the bet.

Regarded by market professionals as “dumb money,” the pack of traders, some of them former bankers working for themselves, have become an increasingly powerful force worth 20% of equity orders last year, data from Swiss bank UBS showed.

The only-way-is-up nature of stock markets over the past decade, fuelled by a constant flow of newly created money from major central banks, has also made it less risky to bet on shares rising.

The U.S. Federal Reserve kept those taps firmly open at its latest meeting on Wednesday.

This week’s turmoil caught the attention of the White House, with U.S. President Joe Biden’s economic team — including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on her first full day on the job on Wednesday — “monitoring the situation.”

Massachusetts state regulator William Galvin called on NYSE to suspend trading in GameStop for 30 days to allow a cooling-off period.

“The prospect of intervention here is clearly high, but this will just galvanize the (WallStreetBets) community as it just brings home the feeling of inequality in financial markets,” said Chris Weston, head of research at broker Pepperstone in Melbourne.

“It’s fine to prop up zombie companies through Fed actions but if retail follows a path that greatly distorts asset prices by targeting short sellers, then this gets shut down.”

Reddit said on Wednesday that it had not been contacted by authorities over the surges.

Reporting by Sagarika Jaisinghani, Nikhil Nainan and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru, Saqib Iqbal Ahmed and April Joyner in New York; and Thyagaraju Adinarayan in London Writing by Patrick Graham; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

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What’s behind the EU-AstraZeneca vaccine row? – Al Jazeera English

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The European Union and AstraZeneca are engaged in a bitter row over the United Kingdom-based pharmaceutical giant’s supply of coronavirus vaccines to the bloc.

The dispute began last week when AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company, said it would cut supplies to the EU in the first quarter of this year, citing production issues.

Crisis talks between the pair on Wednesday failed to achieve a breakthrough, prompting fears the argument over how many doses the EU will receive could continue.

The EU contract with AstraZeneca is an advance purchase agreement for the supply of at least 300 million doses, delivered in stages, provided the vaccine is approved as safe and effective.

The dispute has raised concerns about the international competition for limited supplies of the shots, which are hoped to ease the COVID-19 pandemic.

What caused the EU and AstraZeneca row?

Last week, AstraZeneca, which partnered with the UK’s Oxford University to develop its vaccine, said it would cut supplies to the EU in the first quarter of this year, blaming production issues at European manufacturing plants.

An EU official said that meant the 27-member bloc would receive 60 percent fewer doses than initially agreed, down from 80 million to 31 million doses overall in the first three months of 2021.

The news came as a body blow to the EU, which has been slow in rolling out vaccines compared with some other regions and countries, especially the UK, a former member state.

The bloc has signed deals for six different vaccines, but so far its medicines regulators have only authorised the use of two – by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to greenlight the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday.

What has each side said?

Following Wednesday’s talks, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said there was still a “continued lack of clarity” from AstraZeneca on the delivery schedule and called on the company to detail how it would supply the bloc with reserved vaccine doses.

“We will work with the company to find solutions and deliver vaccines rapidly for EU citizens,” she said in a post on Twitter.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said after the meeting that the company was committed to “coordination”.

But Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive, rejected the EU’s assertion that the company was failing to honour its delivery commitments.

Soriot said vaccine delivery figures set out in AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU were just targets.

“Our contract is not a contractual commitment, it’s a best effort,’’ Soriot told Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday. “Basically, we said we’re going to try our best, but we can’t guarantee we’re going to succeed.”

Soriot also told reporters that vaccines meant for the EU were produced in four plants in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

But European Commission officials said on Wednesday that the bloc’s contract with AstraZeneca stipulated that the company had also committed to providing vaccines from two factories in the UK.

The EU’s contract with AstraZeneca is confidential and cannot be released without the agreement of both sides. The bloc has asked the company for permission to release the contract.

How will the argument be resolved?

As of yet, it is unclear how the dispute will be settled.

The EU’s Kyriakides said on Wednesday that AstraZeneca must “live up to its contractual, societal and moral obligations” and deliver the vaccine in the quantities, and by the deadlines, originally set out by their agreement.

Kyriakides added that the firm should divert stock from its UK facilities if it it is unable to meet commitments from factories in the EU.

But a senior UK government minister said on Thursday the country’s supply of vaccines from AstraZeneca must not be interrupted.

“It is the case that the supplies which have been planned, paid for and scheduled should continue,” the Conservative Party’s Michael Gove told the BBC. “Absolutely, there will be no interruption to that.”

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