- Japan declares state of emergency in Tokyo area as COVID-19 cases surge
- Lebanon begins new lockdown amid surge in coronavirus cases
Ontario reported 3,519 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, another single-day high in a province facing growing caseloads and increasing stress on hospital systems.
Hospitalizations crept upward to 1,472, according to provincial data published Thursday morning, with 363 COVID-19 patients in the province’s intensive care units.
The province, which also reported 89 additional deaths, is under a shutdown that went into effect on Dec. 26. When asked on Wednesday whether further restrictions are needed, Premier Doug Ford said officials will be making a decision “over the next few days.”
As of 11:15 a.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had recorded more than 632,842 cases of COVID-19 and 16,532 deaths. The number of active cases stood at 80,210.
The bulk of cases have been in the country’s two most populous provinces — Ontario and Quebec — where conditions have been deteriorating rapidly in recent weeks.
Ontario is reporting 3,519 cases of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> and nearly 65,800 tests completed. Locally, there are 891 new cases in Toronto, 568 in Peel, 457 in York Region, 208 in Windsor-Essex County, 175 in Waterloo and 174 in Durham.
Health officials in Quebec reported 2,519 new cases and 74 deaths on Thursday, bringing the death toll in the province to 8,562. Hospitalizations in Quebec decreased slightly to 1,380, according to a provincial dashboard, which listed the number of people in intensive care as 202 — the same as a day earlier.
The update from health officials on Thursday comes after Quebec’s premier announced on Wednesday that he is imposing a provincewide 8 p.m. curfew beginning Saturday as a way to curb surging coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.
The hard-hit province will become the first in Canada to impose a curfew to address the pandemic.
Premier François Legault said despite the fact that schools, stores and many other businesses have been closed since December, infections and related hospitalizations continue to rise. Too many seniors are ending up in hospital after becoming infected in private homes, he said.
“We are obliged to provide a type of shock treatment so that people reduce their visits,” he told reporters.
Beginning Saturday and until at least Feb. 8, people in Quebec will be under a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., Legault said. He said anyone caught breaking the rules will be subject to a fine of between $1,000 and $6,000. The government is considering creating a document for people who have to be out after the curfew that could be shown to police.
“When we say we are giving an electroshock it’s really for four weeks, a period that should make a difference,” Legault said.
WATCH | Quebec imposes COVID-19 curfew, 4-week lockdown:
Legault said officials have been struggling to understand why the province’s caseload has continued to spike despite existing restrictions, including the closure of schools. He said they concluded the virus was being spread through gatherings in residences, and the curfew is meant to prevent that.
The premier said all non-essential businesses that he ordered closed in December will remain closed until at least Feb. 8, when the curfew is scheduled to be lifted.
The premier said primary schools will reopen as scheduled, on Jan. 11, and high school students will return to in-person learning the week after, on Jan. 18. “Our children have to be able to continue to learn,” he said.
Speaking before Legault’s news conference, Dr. Donald Sheppard, chair of the microbiology and immunology department at McGill University, said the government needed to explain the logic behind a curfew because the majority of outbreaks documented by public health have been in workplaces and schools.
Much of Quebec, including the province’s largest cities, has been under partial lockdown since October, when bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms and entertainment venues were closed. In December, Legault closed all “non-essential” retail stores and extended the winter break for elementary and high school students.
Compounding the picture is the still small but growing number of cases related to a novel coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom that is believed to be even more contagious than the original.
Nevertheless, Transport Minister Marc Garneau lifted the ban on inbound flights from the U.K. A negative coronavirus test will be required to board planes to Canada starting this week.
-From The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 11:10 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
WATCH | Should COVID-19 vaccines have gone to nursing home residents before staff?
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases reported in the province to 1,524.
New Brunswick reported a single-day high on Wednesday with 31 new COVID-19 cases. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said she expects a rise in cases over the next week to 10 days as a result of New Year’s Eve gatherings. The province reported 27 infections on Tuesday — a record at the time — spurring the premier to increase restrictions across the province.
In the North, Yukon reported one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday. In Nunavut, there were no new cases reported Wednesday as health officials kicked off the territory’s COVID-19 vaccination effort, beginning at a centre for elders in Iqaluit. There were no new cases reported in the Northwest Territories.
In Manitoba, health officials reported 176 new COVID-19 cases and 10 additional deaths on Wednesday. Sixty of the new cases were linked to holiday gatherings.
British Columbia reported 625 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday as well as eight additional deaths.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 11:20 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 87.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with 48.8 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a COVID-19 case tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
COVID-19 vaccine deliveries under the COVAX facility co-ordinated by the World Health Organization to support lower-income countries could start this month, WHO immunization director Kate O’Brien said on Thursday.
“We need about $7 billion [US] in order to deliver enough vaccine to these countries through the end of 2021. The facility has already raised about $6 billion of the $7 billion,” she told an online social media event.
“So the facility has access to over two billion doses of vaccine. We will start to deliver those vaccines probably by the end of January, and if not, then certainly by early February and mid-February.”
In the Americas, the U.S. COVID-19 case count stood at more than 21.3 million on Thursday, with more than 361,000 deaths. Hospitalizations surged in the U.S. as the historic vaccination effort lagged.
The U.S. reported more than 3,800 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins. The New York Times, which has also been tracking COVID-19 cases in the U.S., put the figure even higher, at 3,964.
In Louisiana, hospitals warn that they are running dangerously short of beds because of the influx of COVID-19 patients and the situation is expected to worsen because of the recent holidays.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and public health officials said Wednesday that efforts are being made to speed up vaccinations for the coronavirus. But they add that nothing will happen quickly enough to lower Louisiana’s coronavirus outbreak except the precautionary measures they have been preaching for months.
Virus restrictions in Louisiana are scheduled to expire next week, and the governor says he doesn’t know whether he will toughen the rules or simply renew them. New Orleans announced new restrictions on Wednesday.
Mexico saw one of the biggest daily rises in cases and deaths, while health authorities said a doctor who had a serious allergic reaction after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine remained hospitalized.
Brazil is ready to begin vaccinating its population this month, and the country has secured a total of 354 million vaccine doses for 2021.
In Africa, South Africa set out plans to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of its population, in a bid to achieve herd immunity, as a mutant variant drove daily new cases above 21,000 for the first time.
South African officials said the country will import 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate the country’s health workers. It’s the nation’s first announcement of the purchase of a COVID-19 vaccine. It comes as record highs of 21,832 new confirmed cases and 844 deaths were registered Wednesday.
The health minister said the first one million doses will be delivered later this month from the Serum Institute of India, followed by 500,000 doses in February.
South Africa, with 60 million people, has reported more than 1.1 million confirmed infections. That represents more than 30 per cent of all cases on the 54-nation continent of 1.3 billion people.
Some of South Africa’s hospitals are reporting they are at capacity. The rapid spread of the disease in recent weeks has been driven by a new, possibly more infectious variant of the virus, according to medical experts. There have been 31,368 confirmed deaths in South Africa.
Kenya’s health minister, meanwhile, said the country is expected to start receiving 24 million doses next month of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, as countries in sub-Saharan Africa begin to announce progress in obtaining the desperately needed vaccines.
Mutahi Kagwe on Wednesday said health workers and teachers will have priority for vaccinations in East Africa’s economic hub and that the shots will be voluntary. The ministry on Thursday confirmed his remarks, which were first reported by local media.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan has declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby areas as coronavirus cases continue to surge, hitting a daily record of 2,447 in the capital.
It kicks in Friday and will remain in place until Feb. 7, and includes asking restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and people to stay home and not mingle in crowds.
The state of emergency carries no penalties.
New coronavirus cases in northern China’s Hebei province have more than doubled as officials move to lock down an area that is home to about 75 million people.
Officials announced 51 new cases Thursday, bringing Hebei’s total to 90 since Sunday. Most of the cases have been in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital that is due to host some events of next year’s Winter Olympics.
In the Middle East, Lebanon has begun a 25-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus as infections hit a new record in the tiny Mediterranean nation and patients overwhelm the health-care sector. The lockdown is the third in Lebanon since the first case was reported in late February.
The Israeli cabinet has agreed to tighten a lockdown in hopes of slowing a raging coronavirus outbreak.
Most schools and businesses will be closed, public gatherings restricted and public transportation limited for a two-week period beginning at midnight Thursday. Thousands of police are expected to be deployed to enforce the closure. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced the decision late Wednesday.
In Europe, the Czech Republic on Thursday reported 17,668 new cases over the past 24 hours — its highest daily tally, health ministry data showed.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9:55 a.m. ET
In blow to Trudeau, queen’s representative in Canada quits after harassment allegations
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Governor General Julie Payette, the representative of the country’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth, quit on Thursday amid allegations of workplace harassment in an embarrassment for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The resignation has no immediate implications for the Liberal government. The governor general has a largely ceremonial job such as swearing in governments and formally signing legislation, but can on rare occasions be asked to settle constitutional questions.
She resigned just hours after senior officials received the results of an independent probe into reports of verbal abuse and bullying by Payette.
“I have come to the conclusion that a new Governor General should be appointed. Canadians deserve stability in these uncertain times,” Payette said in a statement, adding she was sorry for tensions that had arisen with staff.
She was the first governor general to quit under a cloud. Richard Wagner, chief justice of the Supreme Court, will temporarily take over her duties until she is replaced.
Payette, 57, took office in October 2017 for a five-year term on Trudeau’s recommendation. Even after the probe was launched last July, Trudeau defended Payette, saying in September that she was “an excellent governor general.”
She was formerly the country’s chief astronaut and the first Canadian to serve on the International Space Station.
In a brief statement, Trudeau said the resignation meant workplace concerns in the governor general’s office could be addressed. He notably did not thank Payette.
Trudeau is an avowed feminist, and Liberal officials said at the time that the appointment would advance the cause of women. Potential candidates for the job are supposed to be vetted by a special committee, a step Trudeau chose to ignore.
“The colossal failure of Ms. Payette’s term falls squarely on his shoulders,” said Don Davies, a legislator for the opposition New Democrats.
“It’s not a constitutional crisis. … There is a system in place to allow for continuity of the role,” Barbara Messamore, a history professor and constitutional expert at the University of the Fraser Valley, told the CBC.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)
Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada approves rapid COVID-19 test – CBC.ca
Ottawa-based company Spartan Bioscience has received Health Canada approval for its made-in-Canada rapid COVID-19 test, authorizing the sale of the device.
“Spartan’s test is the first truly mobile, rapid PCR test for COVID-19 for the Canadian market,” a news release from the company states. “The Spartan COVID-19 system offers the speed and ease of use of a rapid test, while using the technology of lab-based COVID-19 testing solutions.”
Health Canada originally provided regulatory approval for the company’s device in April 2020 — with the federal government ordering 40,000 tests monthly. At the time, the portable test was being called a “game changer” by health officials because it could deliver on-location results within 60 minutes.
The federal agency restricted the device to research use in May, however, after finding problems with the test that made it unreliable. Approval was granted on Friday after the company conducted clinical trials based on a new device design, Health Canada spokesperson Natalie Mohamed told CBC News in an email.
“The Spartan Bioscience test is a point-of-care molecular test,” Mohamed wrote. “This new device meets Health Canada’s requirements for safety and effectiveness.”
New swab, upgrades to chemistry kit
Dr. James Spiegelman, a co-founder of the company who also practises internal medicine at Humber River Regional Hospital in Toronto, said the problems stemmed from the efficacy of the swabs used to collect tissue samples, not the machine itself.
Spartan originally used a proprietary cheek swab that it developed for other DNA diagnostics, he said, but it became clear that the swab wasn’t collecting enough genetic material to produce consistent, reliable results.
The company now uses standard nasopharyngeal swabs to collect tissue from the nose.
“We found that that provides the best sample for increased sensitivity of the test,” Spiegelman said.
Spiegelman said the company also made improvements to the sample processing kit so that it no longer needs to be shipped and stored at frozen temperatures but can be stored at room temperature.
With the Spartan test, a trained health-care professional swabs the nose of the person being tested, places the swab into a processing kit that generates a chain reaction and then puts that kit into the cube-shaped device, which takes about 50 minutes to analyze and produce results.
Spiegelman said the test could be used to provide quick and accurate COVID-19 diagnostics everywhere from hospitals and workplaces to pharmacies and remote communities.
“I think [Spartan’s rapid test] will really help alleviate and give us a tool in our toolbox to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
Rapid tests already in use across Canada
Rapid diagnostic tests are already in use in many settings across Canada to test for COVID-19, including in homeless shelters, long-term care homes and remote communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that the federal government had distributed more than 14 million to the provinces and territories.
“The Spartan system will be able to provide quality results to remote communities, industries and settings with limited lab access, helping relieve the burden on overwhelmed health-care facilities,” the company’s news release states.
The company said production of the rapid tests is already underway and that shipments will begin immediately to federal, provincial and commercial customers
CBC News has contacted Health Canada but did not hear back immediately.
In an emailed statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Health said it welcomes the authorization of additional rapid tests.
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.”
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