A new variant of the coronavirus first seen in Britain has been detected in several nations — including Canada — amplifying worries about its spread.
The first reported Canadian cases, identified in a couple in southern Ontario, came as the province went into a lockdown on Saturday. The pair had contact with someone who had recently returned from the U.K., health officials later said.
“This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said in a statement.
On Sunday, health officials in British Columbia and the Ottawa area said they had identified people infected with the variant of the coronavirus first identified in the U.K.
The B.C. case was found in someone from the Island Health region who had recently returned from the U.K. The case was detected when the person developed symptoms while in quarantine, a statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
The statement said a “small number of close contacts have been isolated and public health is following up with them daily.”
Health officials in the Ottawa area said the case in that region also involved someone who had recently travelled from the U.K.
“The Ottawa Public Health Department has informed the individual who is now in self-isolation. Case and contact management investigation is underway,” a statement said.
As of early Monday morning, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 552,020, with 79,863 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,964.
Here’s a look at some of the latest developments from across Canada:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week announced that Canada is extending its ban on passenger flights coming from the U.K. until Jan. 6.
The variant was first identified in the United Kingdom but has since been detected in several other countries, including France, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands and South Korea.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Monday the cases have been confirmed in a family of three people who came to South Korea on Dec. 22.
Health officials in Finland reported their first case of the new variant on Monday, saying the case was in a Finnish citizen who had recently arrived from Britain for a Christmas holiday. The person’s recent connections were traced and his family members have been isolated. Finnish health officials said they believed the variant hasn’t spread further.
Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway reported their first cases of the new COVID-19 variant on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Denmark reported its first such case earlier in December.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the World Health Organization director general, told CBC’s The Current on Monday that it’s still “early days” in terms of the new variants in the U.K. and South Africa.
Mutations happen, said the Canadian physician, noting that research into new variants is ongoing.
He said governments and people need to keep “as much pressure” on the virus as possible by sticking with public health measures like physical distancing, masking and handwashing.
“Because if you give it space there’s going to be more mutations; there will be emergence of more concerning variants as we go forward,” Aylward said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has said early data suggests the new variant may be more transmissible, but there is no evidence the variant causes more severe symptoms or impacts vaccine effectiveness.
What’s happening in the U.S.
WATCH | Trump signs COVID-19 relief bill, extending benefits for millions:
U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday signed into law a $2.3-trillion US pandemic aid and spending package, restoring unemployment benefits to millions of Americans and averting a federal government shutdown in a crisis of his own making.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said it screened 1.28 million passengers on Sunday at the country’s airports, the highest number since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic slashed travel demand.
The number of U.S. air travellers is still about 50 per cent lower than the same date last year, but Sunday was the sixth day in the last 10 that volume surpassed 1 million. The rise comes despite public health officials urging Americans to avoid holiday travel this year.
The U.S. has now seen more than 19 million cases of coronavirus infection since the pandemic began, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows. America passed that mark on Sunday, just six days after it reached 18 million. The nation’s case numbers have more than doubled in less than two months.
COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. also have been rising, and now total more than 333,000. That’s more than one death for every 1,000 Americans.
California, which has seen more than two million confirmed cases of the novel virus, is expecting its situation to worsen as travellers return home after the holidays.
State officials are expected to extend the strictest stay-at-home orders in central and Southern California as hospitals there are quickly running out of intensive care unit beds for coronavirus patients ahead of the presumed post-holiday surge.
State stay-at-home orders for the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California are set to expire Monday. State officials say the orders are likely to be extended but did not make a definitive ruling Sunday afternoon.
– From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 8:50 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Monday morning, more than 80.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 45.7 million considered recovered or resolved, according to a case-tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.
Novavax Inc. has begun a large late-stage study of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, the drug developer said on Monday, after delaying the trial twice due to issues in scaling up the manufacturing process.
It will enroll up to 30,000 volunteers across about 115 sites in the United States and Mexico, with two-thirds of them receiving the shot 21 days apart and the rest getting a placebo, the company said.
Novavax lags behind other drugmakers in the global race for COVID-19 vaccine, with shots from Pfizer and Moderna authorized for emergency use in the United States.
In Africa, South Africa’s total infections crossed a million on Sunday, days after a new faster spreading variant was confirmed to be present in the country.
In the Middle East, Iran reported the lowest daily fatalities in more than three months.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing tightened COVID-19 curbs over concerns that China’s mass travel during the holiday period could cause cases to spike in the capital.
South Korea, which continues to report near-record numbers of new cases each day, said it will extend physical distancing measures for another six days, to Jan. 3.
Sydney’s outbreak continued with more than a quarter million people in lockdown as Australia’s largest city awaited word on whether any public New Year’s Eve celebrations will be allowed.
In the Americas, Brazil’s vice-president Hamilton Mourao has tested positive for COVID-19, his office said Sunday. Brazil has seen more than 7.4 million cases of the novel virus, with more than 191,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
Argentina will begin vaccinating its citizens on Tuesday using the recently delivered Sputnik V vaccine.
In Europe, British regulatory approval of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca could accelerate the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, cabinet office minister Michael Gove said.
Germany’s confirmed death toll in the coronavirus pandemic has topped 30,000 as the country hopes its lockdown will bring down case numbers. The national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, said Monday that another 348 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to 30,126.
Moscow has started offering a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine to people older than 60 after Russia’s health ministry cleared it for use among the elderly.
Earlier this month, mass vaccination against COVID-19 started in Russia with the Sputnik V vaccine, which is still undergoing advanced tests among tens of thousands of people needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Front-line workers, such as doctors and teachers, were the first in line to get the shots, and until Saturday only those aged 18-60 were allowed to be vaccinated.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:25 a.m. ET
Canada will not approve new thermal coal mining projects
Canada will not approve new thermal coal mining projects or plans to expand existing mines because of the potential for environmental damage, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said on Friday.
“The government considers that these projects are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects within federal jurisdiction and are not aligned with Canada‘s domestic and international climate change commitments,” he said.
In a statement, Wilkinson said thermal coal – primarily used for generating electricity – was the single largest contributor to climate change.
Canada produced 57 million tonnes of coal in 2019, just 1% of the overall global total. Canadian output in 2019 comprised 47% thermal coal and 53% metallurgical coal, which is used for steel manufacturing, according to official data.
“The continued mining and use of thermal coal for energy production in the world runs counter to what is needed to effectively combat climate change,” Wilkinson said. In 2018, Ottawa introduced regulations to phase-out conventional coal-fired electricity across Canada by 2030.
The new policy would apply to privately-held firm Coalspur’s plans to expand an existing thermal coal mine in the western province of Alberta, he said.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)
Victoria cancels Canada Day celebration after mass grave discovery
Victoria British Columbia has decided to cancel a virtual celebration of the national Canada Day holiday on July 1 after discovery of unmarked graves of children at a now-defunct indigenous boarding school.
The city council of Victoria voted on Thursday instead to air programming led by the local indigenous nation at a later date. Local indigenous leaders who usually participate in Canada Day ceremonies declined after remains of 215 children were found at the former school in Kamlooops, northern British Columbia.
“They’re grief-struck and reeling, as are many indigenous people across the country,” Lisa Helps, mayor of Victoria, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday.
Victoria will “produce a broadcast to air later this summer guided by the Lekwungen people and featuring local artists, that explores what it means to be Canadian, in light of recent events,” she said.
The Songhees Nation, of which the Lekwungen people are members, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
NATO summit seeks return to gravitas with Biden
NATO leaders will seek reassurance on Monday from that after four years of denigration by his predecessor Donald Trump, the alliance can count on the support of the United States, its most powerful member.
In a more pared-back gathering than past NATO summits in part due to COVID-19 restrictions, without fighter jet fly-pasts, the 30 allies will gather in their glass and steel headquarters to agree reforms for a multipolar, post-Cold War world where China’s military rise presents a new challenge.
The summit is a “unique opportunity” to renew transatlantic ties, according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Brussels’ town hall in the historic Grand Place will be illuminated in NATO’s signature blue on Sunday night while the Belgian capital’s famed bronze fountain of a boy urinating will also don a NATO-branded outfit on Monday.
“The first thing is for Biden to recommit to NATO’s collective defence,” Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official who was at a 2018 summit at which Trump considered quitting the alliance.
Trump brought a television reality-show quality to the NATO summits he attended from 2017 to 2019, diplomats said, attracting international attention but also wearing down allies whom he called “delinquent” for not spending enough on defence.
Biden has already annulled a Trump decision to pull U.S. troops out of Germany, although there is still American pressure for European allies to pay more towards their own security. Stoltenberg said on Friday that European allies, Turkey and Canada will have collectively increased their defence budgets by $260 billion by the end of 2021, compared to 2014.
“This summit with Biden should be a signal to the world that NATO is back,” said a senior European NATO diplomat who was also at the alliance during the Trump years.
“There was so much noise and it was a difficult time. But now we can actually talk about the things that matter, the defining security challenges of our time,” the envoy said.
Founded in 1949 to contain a military threat from the Soviet Union, NATO celebrated its 70th anniversary at a summit in London in December 2019.
Russia, climate change, Afghanistan and new technologies are on the menu of the day-long summit, which will culminate in a special leaders’ session in the amphitheatre-like North Atlantic Council chamber.
“I expect Allies will agree a new cyber defence policy for NATO,” Stoltenberg said. “It will recognise that cyberspace is contested at all times,” he told a news conference.
Having strengthened its capability to carry out its core mission of defending Europe following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, NATO now aims to be more ambitious.
In a twist of fate, the NATO summit will agree reforms to the alliance, known as NATO 2030, which were set in motion after Trump questioned its relevance.
Stoltenberg will set out nine areas where NATO could modernise over the medium term, including more joint allied funding of military operations. However, France has already expressed concern about the proposal, fearing it will take money away from national military priorities.
Leaders are likely to agree to draw up a new master strategy document, known as NATO’s Strategic Concept, to include China’s military rise as a challenge for the first time.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Giles Elgood and Angus MacSwan)