U.S. President Joe Biden signed his $1.9-trillion US stimulus bill into law on Thursday, commemorating the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic with a measure designed to bring relief to Americans and boost the economy.
The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives gave final congressional approval to the measure on Wednesday, handing the Democratic president a major victory in the early months of his term.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Biden said before signing.
Biden signed the measure before a prime-time speech planned for later on Thursday to herald the anniversary of the lockdown, urge vigilance as the pandemic rages and offer hope amid a growing number of vaccinated people across the country.
Biden’s signing of the legislation, called the American Rescue Plan, had initially been scheduled for Friday. Chief of staff Ron Klain said it was moved up after it arrived at the White House on Wednesday night.
“We want to move as fast as possible,” Klain posted on Twitter. A celebration with congressional leaders would still take place on Friday, he said.
The package provides $400 billion US for $1,400 US direct payments to most Americans, $350 billion US in aid to state and local governments, an expansion of the child tax credit and increased funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
“People can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend. This is, of course, just the first wave,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. Payments to eligible Americans will continue throughout the course of the next several weeks.
Nearly 160 million households are expected to get payments, according to White House estimates.
– From Reuters, last updated at 3:45 p.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
WATCH | Doctors discuss habits we should keep after the pandemic:
Canada is marking the one-year anniversary today of the “global pandemic” declaration made by the World Health Organization regarding COVID-19.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other political leaders addressed the House of Commons on Thursday with statements on this national day of observance to commemorate those who’ve died from the novel coronavirus.
“For families and close ones, each death has a before and an after,” Trudeau said.
The government has also asked Canadians to think about the health-care and other essential workers who have been on the front lines treating our illnesses, cooking our food, cleaning our stores, schools and workplaces, and delivering countless items to us.
WATCH | ICU nurse uses COVID-19 vaccine-vial lids to make artwork:
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, urged caution on Wednesday, saying in a statement that the vast majority of Canadians are still susceptible to COVID-19.
“Although COVID-19 activity had been declining nationally from mid-January through mid-February, daily case counts have since levelled off,” Tam said.
“With the continued increase of cases and outbreaks associated with more contagious variants, we must all remain vigilant with public health measures and individual precautions to prevent a rapid shift in trajectory of the epidemic.”
As of 3:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 898,829 cases of COVID-19, with 30,595 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,363.
In Quebec, health officials reported 738 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths on Thursday. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 563, with 111 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
Ontario on Thursday reported 1,092 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 additional deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 680, with 277 patients in the province’s intensive care units.
Meanwhile, Sudbury, sbout 400 kilometres northwest of Toronto, will move into lockdown on Friday after a large spike in COVID-19 cases. The government said it’s placing the region in the strictest category of Ontario’s pandemic restrictions framework to curb the spread of more contagious COVID-19 variants and protect health system capacity. Sudbury has been in the second-strictest “red” category of the framework and the province is using its “emergency brake” mechanism to impose the lockdown.
WATCH | Ontario facing new surge in COVID cases due to variants, expert says:
In Atlantic Canada, health officials in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. Health officials in New Brunswick reported two new cases, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported one additional case.
In the North, Nunavut had no new cases to report on Thursday. Health officials in Yukon and the Northwest Territories had not yet provided updated figures for the day.
Manitoba reported 91 new cases and three new deaths on Wednesday. More than half of the new cases — 50 — are in the Northern Health Region, the province said.
In British Columbia, health officials reported 531 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and one additional death.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
– From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 3:45 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 118.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with 66.9 million cases listed as recovered on the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 2.6 million.
In Europe, health authorities in Denmark, Norway and Iceland on Thursday suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine shots following reports that blood clots had formed in some people who had been vaccinated and there had been one death in Denmark.
Austria earlier stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca shots while investigating a death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism.
Still, the European medicine regulator EMA said the vaccine’s benefits outweighed its risks and could continue to be administered.
“Both we and the Danish Medicines Agency have to respond to reports of possible serious side-effects, both from Denmark and other European countries,” the director of the Danish Health Authority, Soren Brostrom, said in a statement.
The vaccine would be suspended for 14 days, the health agency said. It did not give details of the Danish blood clot victim.
In France, Germany and Spain, the countries’ respective health ministers all said they plan to continue vaccinating with AstraZeneca. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is in Norway for talks with his counterpart in that country, told a news conference the United Kingdom considers the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine safe.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, tweeted Thursday that Canada has “a robust surveillance system in place to detect rare occurrences that may or may not be related to vaccine. It is important to note these are extremely rare events in an area that is using a lot of this vaccine.”
There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these events and the actions these countries have taken is out of an abundance of caution. We will continue watching closely and monitoring every dose of the vaccine in Alberta. (4/4)
COVIShield, the version of the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India that’s considered equivalent to AstraZeneca’s by Health Canada, is not linked to the potential side-effect issues under investigation in Europe.
In an email to CBC News, an AstraZeneca spokesperson confirmed that different batches are used in Canada than the ones in Europe.
“It’s yet another example of the system investigating if there’s any hint of a safety issue,” Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease physician and senior medical advisor for Health PEI, said of the process underway in Europe. “This happens every day with every new medication or every new vaccine. It’s just normally the world’s not watching it.”
WATCH | Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease specialist, talks about Denmark’s decision:
That wasn’t the only vaccine news out of Europe on Thursday — European Medicines Agency has recommended that Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine be licensed in the EU.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the J&J shot in late February and Canadian regulators gave the OK for the one-dose shot in early March. Health experts hope that having a one-dose vaccine will speed efforts to immunize the world against the novel coronavirus, especially given the arrival of worrying new variants in recent months.
The EU has struggled to quickly roll out shots and immunize its most vulnerable citizens.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Cambodia reported its first death from the coronavirus on Thursday amid its biggest outbreak so far.
India reported its worst single-day increase in COVID-19 cases since late December on Thursday, as the western state of Maharashtra battled a fresh wave of infections and imposed a lockdown in one of its most densely populated cities.
A total of 22,854 new coronavirus cases were reported in the last 24 hours, the health ministry said. It was the highest daily rise since Dec. 25, according to a Reuters tally.
India’s overall caseload of more than 11.2 million — the world’s biggest outside the United States — had been falling steadily since a peak in late September, but increased public gatherings and travel are causing a surge at a time when a majority of Indians have yet to be vaccinated.
The figures are still well below September’s peak of more than 90,000 a day.
WATCH | CBC’s Salimah Shivji reports on the big spike in India’s COVID-19 cases:
South Korea will begin vaccinating elders in long-term care settings against the coronavirus this month after authorities approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults 65 years old and older.
The decision by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was based on encouraging data from England and Scotland that the vaccine lowered hospitalizations and death rates in the age group.
South Korea delayed approving the AstraZeneca vaccine for people older than 65 when it began its vaccination campaign last month, citing insufficient laboratory data. But health experts accused the government of risking the safety of people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.
The KCDC says 376,000 workers and residents older than 65 at long-term care hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities and rehab centres will begin receiving the shots this month. About 35 per cent of the country’s COVID-19 deaths in 2020 were linked to long-term care facilities.
In the Middle East, Jordan’s foreign minister is calling for more support with coronavirus vaccines as his country tries to ensure its own citizens as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees, primarily from Syria, are inoculated.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Germany’s Deutsche Welle that Jordan was far short of the number of vaccines it needed, and was trying to procure doses from China and Russia as well as from Western producers.
Jordan has included its massive refugee population in its virus response and is offering them free vaccines. But he says the onus shouldn’t be on Jordan alone. Safadi said “refugees cannot be the responsibility of host countries only; it is a global challenge and therefore the solution has to be global.”
He says Jordan does “appreciate the tremendous support that we got from our partners in Europe and the U.S. and others,” but that now resources are dwindling for refugees.
In Africa, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging “continental capacity” to produce COVID-19 vaccines as Africa tries to vaccinate more of its 1.3 billion people. Dr. John Nkengasong told reporters Thursday that at least five African countries appear to have the capacity to produce vaccines. He mentioned South Africa, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.
He said a meeting is planned for April 12 between the African Union and outside partners to create a “road map” for boosting African capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines. “It’s so important for us to have that,” he said.
Birgitte Markussen, head of the European Union delegation to the African Union, told the briefing that “efforts will be made to support local production” of vaccines. She said solidarity is important “to make sure no one is left behind” in global efforts to stop the pandemic.
At least 22 of Africa’s 54 countries have received COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX program. The continent has set a target of vaccinating at least 60 per cent of its people.
In the Americas, new COVID-19 cases continue to fall in North America, but in Latin America infections are still rising, particularly in Brazil where a resurgence has caused record daily deaths.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 2 p.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)