British Columbia’s top doctor is again calling on people to follow the current guidelines and not gather inside, pointing to the increased transmissibility of the B117 variant and saying it is “much easier to spread it with even minimal contact in indoor settings.”
As of Monday evening, a tracking site maintained by federal officials showed 1,240 reported cases of the B117 variant in B.C. alone. Across the country, there have been 5,117 reported cases of the variant, which was first reported in the U.K.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said indoor gatherings of “any size” remain a risk and urged people to follow public health guidelines and only gather in small groups of up to 10 outside.
“The areas where we know it spreads most quickly and most dangerously are the same as they were last year — but now there’s even less a margin for error,” Henry said Monday as she provided updated COVID-19 figures for the weekend.
“This is a time where we need to take those little sacrifices — all of us — so that we can continue to keep those important workplaces open, we can continue to support our children to be in school, and we can continue to support our immunization programs so that we can all be safe very soon.”
Under the current restrictions in place in B.C., social gatherings of any size aren’t allowed inside homes with “anyone other than your household or, if you live alone, your core bubble.”
Henry said that while more people are getting their shots every day, it’s important for people to understand that the risk “for all of us remains high.”
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Monday on Twitter that Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec are reporting the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases involving more transmissible variants.
Variants of concern are “moving quickly,” Henry said. “To counter that, we continue to be slow and steady and to find our balance, our path to get to those brighter days — which are not that far away now.”
As of Monday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province stood at 303, including 80 in critical care, Henry said.
An average of 595 cases of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> over the last three days in B.C., as the province’s trendline continues to curve upward. <br><br>Active cases now highest since January 10, hospitalizations now over 300 for the first time since January 27. <br><br>15 new deaths. <br><br>Today’s chart. <a href=”https://t.co/CHDv3cdrlg”>pic.twitter.com/CHDv3cdrlg</a>
Adrian Dix, the province’s health minister, reiterated Henry’s call and said indoor gatherings remain a “major problem” in B.C.
“If you are thinking of going out for a birthday celebration or someone invites you to a wedding celebration somewhere — do not go right now.”
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET.
What’s happening across Canada
WATCH | 3rd COVID-19 wave hitting young Canadians harder:
As of 10:35 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had reported 940,270 cases of COVID-19, with 36,110 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,725.
Ontario on Tuesday reported 1,546 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. According to provincial data, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 868, with 324 in intensive care units.
People aged 75 years and older in Ontario on Monday began booking their vaccine appointments through a provincial online portal and a call centre, while pharmacies in three public health units started administering the AstraZeneca shots to those aged 60 and older.
In Atlantic Canada, health officials reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday — eight in New Brunswick and two in both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. No new cases were reported in Prince Edward Island.
In Quebec, health officials reported 712 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths on Monday. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 513, with 114 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 66 new cases and one additional death on Monday.
WATCH | Should Canadians be wearing N95-style masks?
Meanwhile, in Saskatchewan, health officials reported 205 new cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus and no additional deaths. Concerns about a growing number of the more infectious COVID-19 cases in the Regina area have prompted some school divisions to restart online learning.
In Alberta, health officials on Monday reported 456 new cases and five additional deaths. The update came as Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the province would not be moving into the next phase of its reopening, saying that will happen only when hospitalizations are under 300 and on a “clear downward trajectory.”
“Today, while hospitalizations are indeed below 300, they’ve risen in recent days,” he said Monday. “The decline that we saw in January and early February has stopped. Alberta now sits at 280 COVID hospitalizations, which is a rise of 16 from a week ago.”
Across the North, there were no new cases reported on Monday in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 10:20 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Tuesday morning, more than 123.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.
In Europe, a leading European Union official has lashed out at the AstraZeneca vaccine company for its massive shortfall in producing doses for the 27-nation bloc, and threatened that any shots produced by them in the EU could be forced to stay there.
Sandra Galina, the chief of the European Commission’s health division, told legislators on Tuesday that while vaccine producers like Pfizer and Moderna have largely met their commitments, “the problem has been AstraZeneca. So it’s one contract which we have a serious problem.”
The European Union has been criticized at home and abroad for its slow rollout of its vaccine drive to citizens, standing at about a third of jabs given to their citizens compared to nations like the United States and United Kingdom.
Galina said the overwhelming responsibility lies with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was supposed to be the workhorse of the drive, because it is cheaper and easier to transport and was supposed to be delivered in huge amounts in the first half of the year.
“We are not even receiving a quarter of such deliveries as regards this issue,” Galina said, noting that AstraZeneca could expect a response from the EU. “We intend, of course, to take action because, you know, this is the issue that cannot be left unattended.”
The EU already closed an advance purchasing agreement with the Anglo-Swedish company in August last year for up to 400 million doses.
Meanwhile, Germany is extending its lockdown until April 18 and calling on citizens to stay at home over the Easter holidays to try to break a third wave of the pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, as the country races to vaccinate its population.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has received his first shot of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as he plans to attend June’s Group of Seven meetings in Britain.
Moon on Tuesday received his shot at a public health office in downtown Seoul along with his wife and other presidential officials who plan to accompany him during the June 11-13 meetings.
Moon’s office said he was feeling “comfortable” after receiving the shot and complimented the skills of a nurse who he said injected him without causing pain. The office said Moon will likely receive his second dose sometime around mid-May.
South Korea launched its mass immunization program in February and plans to deliver the first doses to 12 million people through the first half of the year, including elders, front-line health workers and people in long-term care settings.
Officials aim to vaccinate more than 70 per cent of the country’s 51 million population by November, which they hope would meaningfully slow the virus and reduce risks of economic and social activity.
In the Americas, Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning that a surge of coronavirus cases in Europe could foreshadow a similar surge in the United States. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, is urging Americans to remain cautious while the nation races to vaccinate its citizens.
In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, Fauci said he is “optimistic” of the vaccines’ effectiveness and expressed hope that AstraZeneca’s vaccine could join the arsenal of inoculations.
He deemed it an “unforced error” that the company may have used outdated data in a clinical trial, perhaps casting doubt on its effectiveness. But he says Americans should take comfort knowing the FDA would conduct an independent review before it was approved for use in the United States.
Uruguay confirmed that it had detected the presence of two coronavirus variants that originated in neighbouring Brazil as the tiny South American nation faces a spike in cases and deaths.
In Africa, Nigeria suspended the airline Emirates from flying into or out of its territory last week after the carrier imposed additional COVID-19 test requirements on passengers from the country, the aviation minister said.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10:10 a.m. ET
Details of funeral service planned for Britain’s Prince Philip
LONDON (Reuters) – Following are details of the funeral this Saturday of Britain’s Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, who died on April 9 aged 99.
The funeral, which will be broadcast live, will take place at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT).
As planned, it will be a ceremonial royal funeral, rather than a state funeral, with most of the details in keeping with Prince Philip’s personal wishes.
However, it has had to be scaled back because of COVID-19 restrictions. There will be no public access, no public processions and the funeral will take place entirely within the grounds of Windsor Castle.
The service will begin with a national minute of silence. At the end of the service Philip will be interred in the chapel’s Royal Vault.
WHO WILL ATTEND?
Only 30 mourners are permitted because of COVID-19 rules. These will include the queen, all senior royals including the duke’s grandchildren and their wives, and members of Prince Philip’s family including Bernhard, the Hereditary Prince of Baden, and Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.
Members of the Royal Family will be wearing morning coat with medals, or day dress. The congregation will adhere to national coronavirus guidelines and wear masks for the 50-minute service.
A small choir of four will sing pieces of music chosen by the prince before his death and there will be no congregational singing. The queen will be seated alone during the service.
THE DETAILS (note: all times local, GMT is one hour behind British Summer Time)
At 11 a.m., Philip’s coffin, covered by his standard (flag), a wreath, his naval cap and sword, will be moved by a bearer party from the Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards from the Private Chapel in Windsor Castle – where it has been lying in rest – to the Inner Hall of the castle.
At 2 p.m. the ceremonial aspect begins, and within 15 minutes military detachments drawn from Philip’s special military relationships such as the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Grenadier Guards, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the Intelligence Corps and the Highlanders will line up in the castle’s quadrangle.
The Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry will line up around the perimeter of the quadrangle.
Between 2.20 p.m. and 2.27 p.m., the royals and members of Philip’s family not taking part in the procession will leave by car for St George’s Chapel.
At 2.27 p.m., a specially-coverted Land Rover that Philip helped design will enter the quadrangle.
At 2.38 p.m., the coffin will be lifted by the bearer party from the Inner Hall.
Bands in the quadrangle will stop playing at 2.40 p.m. and the coffin will emerge from the State Entrance one minute later.
The royals in the procession including Philip’s four children – Princes Charles, Andrew, Edward and Princess Anne, along with grandsons William and Harry – will leave the State Entrance behind the coffin, which will be placed onto the Land Rover.
At 2.44 p.m., the queen will leave the Sovereign’s Entrance in a car known as the State Bentley. The national anthem will be played and as the car reaches the rear of the procession, it will pause briefly.
At 2.45 p.m., the procession will step off with the band of the Grenadier Guards leading. The Land Rover will be flanked by pall bearers.
As it moves to the chapel, Minute Guns will be fired by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and a Curfew Tower Bell will sound.
The queen’s Bentley will stop outside the Galilee Porch where she will be met by the dean of Windsor, David Conner, who will escort her to her seat in the quire of the Chapel.
The coffin will arrive at the foot of the west steps of St George’s Chapel at 2:53 p.m. to a guard of honour and band from the Rifles. Positioned in the Horseshoe Cloister will be the Commonwealth defence advisers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago.
The west steps will be lined by a dismounted detachment of the Household Cavalry. A Royal Naval Piping Party will pipe the “Still” once the Land Rover is stationery at the foot of the steps. A bearer party from the Royal Marines will lift the coffin from the Land Rover as the Piping Party pipe the “Side”.
The coffin will pause for the national minute of silence at 3 p.m.. A gun fired from the East Lawn will signify the start and end.
The coffin will then be taken to the top of the steps where it will be received by the dean of Windsor and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. As the chapel doors close, a piping party will pipe the “Carry On”.
The coffin will move through the nave to the catafalque in the quire, with senior royals processing behind.
Philip’s “insignia” – essentially the medals and decorations conferred on him, his field marshal’s baton and Royal Air Force Wings, together with insignia from Denmark and Greece, will be positioned on cushions on the altar.
The funeral service will then be conducted by the dean of Windsor. After the coffin is lowered into the Royal Vault, Philip’s “Styles and Titles” will be proclaimed from the sanctuary.
A lament will then be played by a pipe major of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and “The Last Post” will be sounded by buglers of the Royal Marines.
After a period of silence, “the Reveille” will be sounded by the state trumpeters of the Household Cavalry and then the buglers of the Royal Marines will sound “Action Stations” at the specific request of the Duke of Edinburgh, as Philip was officially known.
The archbishop of Canterbury will then pronounce the blessing, after which the national anthem will be sung.
The queen and the other mourners will then leave the chapel via the Galilee Porch.
(Reporting by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Frances Kerry and Catherine Evans)
Biden, Suga to send signal to assertive China at U.S.-Japan summit
By Linda Sieg and David Brunnstrom
TOKYO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden will highlight Tokyo’s central role in Washington’s strategy to counter the challenge of an increasingly assertive China at a summit on Friday.
While that emphasis on Japan’s key status will be welcome in Tokyo, where some politicians are pushing for a tougher stance towards Beijing, it also raises questions about how far Tokyo can go to meet demands on regional defence and human rights.
“This will be the precursor to a series of meetings among like-minded countries to send the right signal to Beijing,” Kunihiko Miyake, an adviser to Suga, told Reuters.
Suga took over as premier last September, inheriting a China policy that sought to balance security concerns with deep economic ties.
But striking that balance has become harder as China increases maritime activities in the East and South China Seas and near Taiwan, which Beijing considers a wayward province.
Rights concerns have deepened over the treatment of Muslim Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region. China denies abuses, but Washington says Beijing is perpetrating a genocide.
Suga will be the first foreign leader to meet Biden in person since the president took office, something that could give Suga a boost ahead of a general election this year.
“Asking Suga to meet the president first means a lot – that China competition is critical and who is the best partner? Japan,” said Toshihiro Nakayama of Japan’s Keio University.
“That also means that Japan has to do more.”
Suga told reporters before leaving for Washington he hoped to strengthen the alliance based on the shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law, show the two countries’ leadership in creating a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and build a relationship of trust with Biden.
Besides regional security, the two are also expected to discuss climate change, supply chain resilience, a global semiconductor shortage and COVID-19.
Marc Knapper, the senior official for Japan and Korea at the U.S. State Department, said issues that would be “front and centre” in the discussions included “China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea, South China Sea; what’s happening within China, and…around China, Taiwan, Hong Kong.”
He told an event at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies there would also be discussion of North Korea’s nuclear missile program, which threatens both Japan and the United States, and ways to address “existential issues of our time, climate change, clean energy, COVID-19.”
Japan is grappling with rising coronavirus infections with fewer than 100 days from the planned start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
‘PEACE AND STABILITY’
In a statement after a March meeting of U.S.-Japan defence and foreign ministers, the two sides “underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and shared “serious concerns” about human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged abuses in Xinjiang and some Japanese lawmakers think Tokyo should adopt its own law allowing it to do the same, while Japanese executives worry about a backlash.
Japanese officials were divided over whether Suga should endorse a strong statement on Taiwan, despite U.S. urging, or Xinjiang, two Japanese ruling party lawmakers familiar with the discussions said.
A Japanese foreign ministry official said it was not decided whether there would be a joint statement after the summit.
Asked to comment, a senior U.S. official said: “We would not want Japan to make any statements that they do not fully support.”
Any comments by Suga on either Taiwan or human rights will be closely watched by China, which has warned Tokyo against “being misled” by countries biased against Beijing.
Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue and a source of major friction with Washington, which is required by U.S. law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
While Tokyo has no official diplomatic relations with Taipei, non-governmental engagement has flourished. Some Japanese lawmakers want even closer ties.
The last time U.S and Japanese leaders referred to Taiwan in a joint statement was in 1969, when Japan’s prime minister said maintenance of peace and security in the “Taiwan area” was important for its own security. That was before Tokyo normalised ties with Beijing.
Japan hosts over 50,000 U.S. military personnel and, experts say, would be unlikely to stand idly by in any Taiwan crisis, although many ordinary citizens would probably be wary of entanglement.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg in Tokyo and David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland In Washington; Additional reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies; Editing by David Dolan, Michael Perry and Chizu Nomiyama)
After Air Canada lifeline, small carriers seek aid as virus looms ahead of summer travel
By Allison Lampert and Steve Scherer
MONTREAL (Reuters) –Canada is facing industry calls to extend financial aid to smaller airlines, after offering a C$5.9 billion ($4.71 billion)life-line to Air Canada, as new COVID-19 variants loom ahead of the vital summer travel season.
The timing of Monday’s deal, which saw the Canadian government take a 6% equity stake in Air Canada, was partly designed to secure “access to air travel when it returns,” as the country’s vaccine rollout ramps up this summer, a source familiar with the discussions said.
But with the spread of new variants threatening to overtake the pace of vaccination, early hopes for a relaxation of Canada‘s strict travel requirements ahead of summer are fading.
Fears of a delayed recovery, along with the Air Canada deal, has upset the “level playing field” for air service, with smaller carriers asking for financial support.
“We want everyone to have access to the same programs,” said John McKenna, chief executive of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which represents smaller carriers.
On Wednesday, Air Canada joined rival WestJet Airlines in extending a three-month suspension of sun-destination flights to the Caribbean and Mexico originally slated to end on April 30, reflecting the government’s current warnings against international travel. [L1N2M71SG]
The planned April reopening of a bubble in Atlantic Canada, which would allow travel among the region’s four provinces without the need to self-isolate, was postponed this week until at least May 3 over COVID-19 concerns.
WestJet said its previously-planned schedule for Atlantic Canada remains unchanged.
Canada‘s vaccine roll out has been slow, but it is ramping up now. By the end of June, some 44 million doses are expected, and everyone who wants to be fully inoculated will be by the end of September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised.
Trudeau said in a radio interview this week that he supports Canadian provinces which choose to close their borders to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Canada‘s Liberal government, which will deliver its first budget in two years next week, has said talks with carriers like Onex Corp-owned WestJet are ongoing.
“We hope that the other agreements come as soon as possible,” the source familiar with the talks said, adding that “different airlines have different needs”.
WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell said the airline is optimistic that a successful vaccine roll-out will support summer travel and expects “government policy will transition” with mounting jabs.
Canada, with some of the world’s toughest travel rules, has a mandate that its citizens and residents arriving from abroad self-isolate for 14 days.
Health Canada advised Canadians in a statement to avoid traveling outside the country “for the foreseeable future.”
Calgary-based WestJet has asked the government to end an order requiring international arrivals to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel in favor of COVID-19 testing.
The government must decide whether to renew the controversial hotel order, which expires on April 21.
McKenna also urged the government to relax restrictions on travel with neighboring United States.
“The government can come up with all the financial help they want,” ATAC’s McKenna said. “But until those things are relaxed we can’t do anything.”
($1 = 1.2515 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Steve Scherer in Ottawa. Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; editing by Diane Craft)
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