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

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European Union leaders are meeting Thursday to look for ways of ramping up COVID-19 vaccinations across the 27-nation region amid a shortage of doses, spikes in new cases, a feud with the United Kingdom and internal quarrels.

The coronavirus pandemic once again prevented the leaders from meeting in person, reflecting the poor epidemiological situation in the EU. The spread of more contagious variants of the virus has pushed hospitals in some countries to their limit, and combined with the lack of vaccines available in Europe, has led several EU members to impose strict lockdown measures over the Easter period.

Less than five per cent of the EU’s 450 million residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Speaking ahead of the video talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said problems with the delivery of coronavirus vaccines have underscored the need for the EU to redouble its efforts to produce doses within the bloc.

“We can see clearly that British facilities are producing for Great Britain. The United States isn’t exporting, and therefore we are dependent upon what can be produced in Europe,” she said.

To ensure a steadier vaccine supply, the bloc’s executive arm has proposed strengthening export controls for coronavirus shots. Even if the move is detrimental to non-EU nations, the European Commission’s goal is to force vaccine manufacturers, especially AstraZeneca, to deliver the doses agreed to in their contracts.

The commission also wants to make sure a principle of export reciprocity is enforced with countries that are producing vaccines or the raw materials needed for them.

EU Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis explicitly pointed at Britain earlier this week, saying that since the end of January “some 10 million doses have been exported from the EU to the U.K. and zero doses have been exported from the U.K. to the EU.”

The commission’s proposal has been divisive, according to various European diplomats who spoke before the summit. While some countries see it as an instrument of last resort that should not undermine the EU’s reputation as an open trading bloc, others said it is a crucial tool to guarantee that doses and vaccine ingredients reach the bloc.

“Some countries refuse to export. So we need to introduce reciprocity criteria if we want to be able to keep our vaccination goal for the summer,” said one diplomat, referring to the EU’s aim of having 70 per cent of the adult population vaccinated by that season.

Controls could impact U.K.

Stricter control of exports could have an impact on Britain, whose speedy vaccination rollout after it formally withdrew from the EU has been eyed with envy by many European nations. The latest figures show that 45 per cent of British residents have had at least one vaccine shot, compared to less than 14 per cent for the EU.

The EU’s contract disputes with British-Swedish company AstraZeneca deepened the post-Brexit tensions. However, the EU and the U.K. pledged this week to increase co-operation and fight Europe’s third wave of infections together.

EU officials have said trade with the United States should not be affected by the mechanism. U.S. President Joe Biden has been invited to attend the virtual EU summit.

The leaders of EU member nations also need to settle an internal dispute after Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz criticized the distribution of vaccines, saying that some countries were receiving more than their fair share. Austria is leading a coalition of six countries asking for a correction mechanism.

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a European Union summit over video conference in Paris on Thursday. Vaccine delivery has been a point of contention, with particular concern in Europe around shipments of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine. (Michel Euler/AFP/Getty Images)

Under the joint procurement set up by the European Commission, doses are allocated on a pro rata basis, but member states are free to place orders directly from the manufacturer of their choice.

A large majority of EU members think the system is working well and said Austria made a mistake to focus on AstraZeneca shots instead of diversifying its portfolio. To help the countries struggling the most, member nations are examining ways to make efficient use of the 10 million additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that were made available for the bloc for the second quarter.

“But the correction won’t apply to all member states, only to those who really are in need of solidarity,” a diplomat said.

Further highlighting division within the EU on vaccinations, Denmark’s government announced Thursday it would continue its suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine for three more weeks. Several European countries that had suspended using the vaccine over concerns it could cause blood clots have resumed administering it after the European Union’s drug regulator said it was safe.

A spokesperson for Canada’s international trade minister, Mary Ng, said earlier this week that Canada would work with the EU to ensure the country’s essential medical supply chains remained open.

“Our expected shipments of vaccines have been arriving in Canada,” Youmy Han said in a statement late Tuesday. 

-From The Associated Press and The Canadian Press, last updated at 9 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Canadian medical experts weigh in on debate over COVID-19 vaccine dose intervals:

Dr. Isaac Bogoch and Dr. David Naylor call for exceptions to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the wait time between vaccine shots. 13:33

As of 12:40 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 949,700 cases of COVID-19, with 38,382 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,780.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia‘s government released its budget on Thursday, a first for new Premier Iain Rankin. The budget focused on coping with continuing pandemic costs and improving its health system, creating a $585-million projected deficit for 2021-22.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials reported no new cases on Thursday, a day after the province’s top doctor announced a plan to ease restrictions.

“This time around, we will all need to do things a little differently. I think it’s safe to say we were all startled by this outbreak and how rapidly it escalated and we don’t want to be taken by surprise again,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Wednesday.

Fitzgerald said case counts, including those involving variants of the coronavirus, have been rising in other parts of Canada.

“We will almost certainly see another variant case in the province,” she said. For that reason, wearing a mask will still be as important as ever, officials stressed.

Health officials in New BrunswickNova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had not yet reported updated figures for the day.

In Quebec, health officials reported 945 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and four additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 496, with 117 people in intensive care, according to a provincial tracking dashboard.

The province is set to release a budget on Thursday, its first since the outbreak of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of 10,630 people there. 

Ontario reported 2,380 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 17 additional deaths, though provincial officials noted in a statement that the case count was higher by “approximately 280 cases” due to a data catch-up. Data released by the province put the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at 894, with 332 in intensive care.  

The update comes a day after the provincial government unveiled its budget, offering a spending plan aimed at helping the province recover from the COVID-19 outbreak. 

In Manitoba, health officials reported 81 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and no additional deaths. The province has temporarily halted its expansion of eligibility for vaccinations. Instead, the age will stay at 65 and up (and 45 and up for Indigenous people) for the time being as health teams deal with existing appointments and the province waits for more supply. 

Saskatchewan, meanwhile, said the province will now extend its inoculation program to anyone over age 65. In addition, people aged 50 and older in the Far North can book shots, as can priority health-care workers, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said.

WATCH | Dr. Deena Hinshaw talks about increasing COVID-19 cases in Alberta and the risks of not following public health guidelines: 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, says fatigue, variants and people not following public health measures are the reasons for the recent rise in cases in Alberta. 2:37

In Alberta, health officials reported 692 new cases and two additional deaths on Wednesday. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, cautioned that the province may need to ramp up restrictions in the face of rising cases of variants of concern.

“What we know is that in other places where variant strains have become dominant … additional restrictions have been required,” Hinshaw said Wednesday. Hospitalizations stood at 285, with 53 COVID-19 patients reported to be in intensive care unit beds.

British Columbia reported 716 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations stood at 303, health officials said, with 85 in intensive care units.

Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:40 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

WATCH | New trial looks into mixing COVID-19 vaccines:

A new trial is looking into the possibility of getting different types of COVID-19 vaccines for each dose and what it could mean for the fight against COVID-19. 2:03

As of early Thursday morning, more than 124.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to a tracking site operated by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.

In Africa, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control says he is concerned by reports that the Serum Institute of India is suspending major exports of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in order to meet rising domestic demand.

Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said Thursday that he “truly feels helpless that this situation is going to significantly impact our ability to fight this virus.”

He said that “without ramping access to vaccines we will be challenged, continue to be challenged. Lives will be lost.”

The fight against COVID-19 has to be “a collective battle,” Nkengasong went on, noting that he remained hopeful “that the power of humanity will prevail.”

The BBC and Reuters have reported that the Serum Institute of India is temporarily suspending vaccine exports to meet local demand amid a rise in confirmed virus infections in India. The Indian vaccine manufacturer is the source of the AstraZeneca shots being shipped to Africa under the COVAX initiative working to ensure access for low- and middle-income countries. At least 28 of Africa’s 54 countries had received over 16 million doses via COVAX as of Thursday.

Nkengasong said: “There is absolutely no need, absolutely no need for us as humanity to go into a vaccine war to fight this pandemic. We will all be losers.”

In the Americas, the U.S. has surpassed 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. Coronavirus cases nationwide reached 30,001,245 on Wednesday, nearly three months after the country hit 20 million. COVID-19-related deaths now total more than 545,000.

The new milestone comes as public health experts show cautious optimism three months into the U.S. vaccination rollout. It is believed that 70 per cent of Americans 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine and COVID-19 deaths are below 1,000 a day on average for the first time since November.

The federal government is dramatically ramping up vaccine production and several states have already expanded vaccination eligibility to people age 16 and up.

Residents place roses on mattresses symbolizing COVID-19 victims during a protest against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, organized by the Rio de Paz NGO in front of a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday. (Silvia Izquierdo/The Associated Press)

Brazil, meanwhile, has reached 300,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and become the second nation to top that figure. 

Wednesday’s coronavirus figures from the Brazilian health ministry added another 2,009 deaths to the country’s tally, which local media say is an undercount.

On Tuesday, Brazil hit a single-day record of 3,251 COVID-19 deaths and authorities fear that April could be as grim as March in the country’s overwhelmed hospitals. Brazil added 100,000 deaths to its tally in only 75 days, a spike health experts have blamed on a lack of political co-ordination, new variants that spread more easily and a disregard for health protocols in many parts of the country.

In Europe, Poland reported a record daily number of new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row as the prime minister prepared to give details of harsher restrictions for the Easter period.

Hungary’s hospitals are under “extraordinary” pressure from rising coronavirus infections, its surgeon general said, as the country became a hot spot in the third wave of a pandemic that has hit Central Europe especially hard.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Sri Lanka has decided to purchase seven million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The government said it will pay $69.65 million US for the shots.

Sri Lanka aims to inoculate 14 million people out of the population of 22 million. So far, over 850,000 people have received their shots using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Sri Lanka has received 1.2 million AstraZeneca doses out of at least 10 million it plans to purchase for $52.5 million. It has also approved China’s Sinopharm shots. Of the 1.2 million doses, Sri Lanka got 500,000 as a donation from India and bought another 500,000. The other 264,000 came through the COVAX facility.

In the Middle East, clerks at the largest cemetery in Jordan barely have a moment to themselves as people rush to pay for graves to bury relatives amid a record surge of deaths from COVID-19.

The cemetery on the outskirts of the capital saw at least 50 burials on Tuesday, a day after the health ministry announced 109 COVID-19 deaths, the kingdom’s highest daily tally. The surge in the last two months, blamed on the fast spread of the B117 variant first identified in Britain, has put Jordan’s infections and deaths above most of its neighbours and reverses months of success in containing the outbreak.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9 a.m. ET


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Factbox-Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

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(Reuters) -A recent surge in COVID-19 cases could see major parts of Japan slide back into states of emergency with authorities in Tokyo and Osaka looking at renewed curbs, while quarantine-free travel started between Australia and New Zealand for the first time in more than a year.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS * Eikon users, see COVID-19: MacroVitals https://apac1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=1592404098 for a case tracker and summary of news.

EUROPE

* The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care units in France edged up on Sunday, amid a nationwide lockdown to try to stem a third wave of infections.

* British scientists launched a trial which will deliberately expose participants who have already had COVID-19 to the coronavirus again to examine immune responses and see if people get reinfected.

* Italy will ease curbs in many areas from April 26, warning caution was still needed to avoid any reversals in the reopening of many long-shuttered activities.

AMERICAS

* Just more than half of U.S. adults have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed on Sunday, with nearly 130 million people aged 18 years or more having received their first shot.

* Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday predicted that U.S. health regulators will end the temporary pause on distributing Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, adding he expects a decision could come as soon as Friday.

* Canada will present a budget with billions of dollars for pandemic recovery measures as COVID-19 infections skyrocket, C$2 billion ($1.6 billion) toward national childcare, and new taxes on luxury goods.

* The Canadian province of Ontario will begin offering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday to people turning 40 or older this year.

* Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday the government has made a second payment to the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative to access around 11 million COVID-19 vaccines.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* India’s capital New Delhi recorded 25,500 coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period, with about one in three people tested returning a positive result, its chief minister said, urging the federal government to provide more hospital beds to tackle the crisis.

* Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has agreed to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s request to supply additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine minister of Japan said on Sunday.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* The coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa can break through the protection provided by Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to some extent, a real-world data study in Israel found.

* Vaccination against COVID-19 is a requirement to perform the Umra pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi state TV said on Sunday, citing a government official.

* Tunisia on Saturday announced the closure of all schools until April 30, as well as restrictions on movement, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine was 67% effective in preventing symptomatic infection, data from a huge real-world study in Chile has shown, a potential boost for the jab which has come under scrutiny over its level of protection against the virus.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* Asian shares hovered near 1-1/2 week highs on Monday, helped by expectations monetary policy will remain accommodative the world over, while COVID-19 vaccine rollouts help ease fears of another dangerous wave of coronavirus infections. [MKTS/GLOB]

(Compiled by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Devika Syamnath and Milla Nissi; Edited by William Maclean, Anil D’Silva and Subhranshu Sahu)

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New Zealand says ‘uncomfortable’ with expanding Five Eyes

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new zealand

SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand said it is “uncomfortable” with expanding the role of the Five Eyes, a post-war intelligence grouping which also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, recently criticised by China.

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner, and Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a speech that New Zealand sought a predictable diplomatic relationship.

New Zealand will find it necessary to speak out on issues where it does not agree with China, including developments in Hong Kong and the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, she said in a speech on Monday to the government-funded New Zealand China Council.

In later comments to media reported by New Zealand’s Newshub, Mahuta said New Zealand didn’t favour invoking the Five Eyes for “messaging out on a range of issues that really exist out of the remit of the Five Eyes”.

“We are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes,” she said.

China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly criticised the Five Eyes, after all members issued a joint statement about the treatment of Hong Kong pro-democracy legislators in November.

Last month, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said “the Five Eyes have taken coordinated steps to gang up on China”, after Australia and New Zealand issued a joint statement on Xinjiang.

Last year, the Five Eyes discussed cooperation beyond intelligence sharing, including on critical technology, Hong Kong, supply chains and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement by Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne in 2020.

Mahuta’s office told Reuters it couldn’t provide a copy of her comments on the Five Eyes.

Payne will travel to New Zealand on Wednesday for meetings with Mahuta and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the first diplomatic visit between the neighbouring countries since borders reopened both ways.

Canberra has recently endured a rockier relationship with Beijing than Wellington, with Australia’s trade minister unable to secure a call with his Chinese counterpart as exporters were hit with multiple trade sanctions from China.

A diplomatic dispute between China and Australia worsened in 2020 after Canberra lobbied for an international inquiry into the source of the coronavirus pandemic.

China and New Zealand upgraded a free trade agreement in January, when, Mahuta said, trade ministers had held a “constructive” call.

 

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Australia to hold inquiry to examine military suicides

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By Colin Packham

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia will hold a Royal Commission to examine suicides among serving and former military personnel, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, bowing to public pressure to find ways to stem a mounting toll.

More than 500 have died from suicide since 2001, government data shows, a statistic that has fuelled public anger, including among the prime minister’s own Liberal party.

“I think and I hope it will be a healing process,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra, as he announced his call for a commission to be set up.

“I hope it will be a process by which veterans and families can find some comfort, but it obviously can’t replace the loss.”

The issue became prominent in Australia following a high-profile campaign by Julie-Ann Finney, whose son David, a former naval petty officer, committed suicide in 2019 after he had earlier been deployed to Iraq, East Timor and Bougainville.

Australian troops have been involved in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deployed for humanitarian missions in the Pacific.

The United States, Britain and Canada are also exploring ways to reduce suicide rates among serving and former military personnel.

Morrison said he hopes the Royal Commission will begin hearings later this year. Final recommendations are expected in 2023, he said. A permanent national commissioner will be tasked with ensuring the recommendations are enforced.

 

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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