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

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The latest:

Quebec Premier François Legault is expected to announce updated COVID-19 restrictions later Wednesday that will apply after March 8.

Quebec reported the lowest daily number of new COVID-19 infections since September on Tuesday morning.

Health Minister Christian Dubé, however, told reporters on Tuesday that he is scared about the spread of new coronavirus variants, particularly in the Montreal area, and that it may be the calm before the storm. 

Quebec allowed movie theatres, arenas and some indoor swimming pools to reopen last Friday, a move intended to offer activities for families during the province’s spring break week, which began Monday.

An 8 p.m. curfew and a ban on private gatherings remain in effect in southern Quebec — including in Montreal and Quebec City. A 9:30 p.m. curfew applies in the rest of the province, except the northern region of Nunavik.

-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:40 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Some provinces won’t give AstraZeneca to seniors, could change rollout plans:

Several provinces are signalling they will follow the recommendation of Canada’s vaccine advisory body and not give the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to seniors, creating a shift away from a high-priority group despite Health Canada’s advice that the vaccine is safe and effective. 2:29

As of 12:40 p.m. ET, Canada had reported 874,443 cases of COVID-19, with 30,060 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,081.

In Quebec, health officials reported 729 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 additional deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 618, with 120 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, the province reported.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 958 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 17 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 668, with 274 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 stood at nine, health officials said.

Prince Edward Island reported one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as the chief public health officer said there was no evidence of widespread community transmission in the province.

Dr. Heather Morrison said the province is not yet out of the woods, warning that the province is still susceptible to the importation of COVID-19.

“Let us proceed cautiously, and let us continue to be patient and kind,” she said.

 Newfoundland and Labrador reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, including one in a health-care worker. There were four new cases reported Tuesday in New BrunswickHealth officials in Nova Scotia, meanwhile, reported one new case

Across the NorthNunavut had no new cases to report on Wednesday. Health officials in Yukon and the Northwest Territories had not yet reported updated figures for the day.

WATCH | Industrial workplaces remain a concern as COVID-19 variants spread:

As variants of concern continue to spread, workers in industrial settings remain a big risk. In Peel Region, a major manufacturing centre outside Toronto, many precautions aren’t followed and the lack of sick days is still a major hurdle for employees. 5:25

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 64 new cases and eight additional deaths. The Manitoba government is loosening some of its COVID-19 restrictions as its case numbers continue to drop. Starting Friday, people will be allowed to have another entire household visit in their home, and outdoor public gatherings can increase to 10 people from five.

In neighbouring Saskatchewan, health officials reported 134 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths. 

Alberta reported 257 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths on Tuesday. Hospitalizations stood at 261, with 54 people in intensive care units. 

British Columbia, meanwhile, reported 438 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as well as two more deaths. The update came as the province’s top doctor said the decision to delay second doses of COVID-19 vaccine by four months is based on scientific evidence as well as real-world data.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the data shows protection from a single dose is upwards of 90 per cent and lasts for several months, and delaying second doses will maximize the benefit of vaccines for everyone while reducing mortality and severe illness for those most at risk.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:45 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

Nurse Salome Nkoana, acting operational manager of the COVID-19 ward at the Tembisa Hospital, puts on her personal protective equipment in South Africa, the hardest-hit country in Africa. (Guillem Sartoria/AFP/Getty Images)

As of early Wednesday morning, more than 114.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 64.9 million cases considered recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.5 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the first batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Taiwan.

Taiwan has signed contracts securing 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4.76 million doses of vaccines through COVAX. Wednesday’s delivery had 117,000 doses, which was transported from the airport with a police escort.

Health-care workers, especially those who have direct contact with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, will be the first to get the shots, Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said at a news briefing. The island has yet to announce a mass vaccination campaign for the general public.

Indonesia has detected two cases of the more infectious COVID-19 variant first discovered in Britain, marking a potential new complication for the country.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he is considering extending an ongoing state of emergency for the Tokyo region for about two weeks, amid concerns that infections have not slowed enough and are continuing to strain health systems in the region.

Suga had declared a month-long state of emergency in Jan. 7 for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, then extended the measure through to March 7. The measure issued for up to 10 other urban prefectures later in January was lifted last week, underscoring the government’s eagerness to allow businesses to return to normal as soon as possible.

In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden is directing states to prioritize vaccinating all teachers during the month of March, and announced that the federal government will help in the effort through its partnership with retail pharmacies.

Biden said his goal is for every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and child-care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March. To achieve this, Biden announced that qualifying individuals will be able to sign up this month to be vaccinated at a pharmacy near them.

Biden said that while schools are safe to reopen even before staff have been vaccinated, “time and again, we’ve heard from educators and parents that have anxieties about that,” so to “accelerate” the safe reopening teachers should be prioritized.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued the most sweeping rollback of restrictions of any U.S. state on Tuesday, lifting a mask mandate and saying most businesses may open at full capacity next week, while Michigan and Louisiana also announced a loosening of restrictions.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine had arrived in the South American country, along with protective material for medical personnel.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s health ministry has ruled that only people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to attend the hajj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.

In Europe, Spain revised downward its tally of coronavirus cases on Tuesday after eliminating those registered twice in the region of Catalonia.

A man leaves after being vaccinated against the coronavirus during a mass vaccination campaign at the former bullring of Donostia Arena in San Sebastian, in the Basque region of Spain, on Tuesday. (Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images)

German leaders are looking for ways to ease the country out of a long-running coronavirus lockdown, which they are expected to extend on Wednesday while also opening the door to relaxing some restrictions.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors, who in highly decentralized Germany have the power to impose and lift restrictions, are expected to extend the shutdown in principle by three weeks until March 28. But they are looking for ways to balance concern over the impact of more contagious coronavirus variants with a growing clamour for a return to a more normal life.

The first measures already have been taken: many elementary students returned to school a week ago. And on Monday, hairdressers opened after a 2½-month break.

Some German states also allowed businesses such as florists and hardware stores to open on Monday. Most stores have been closed nationwide since Dec. 16. Restaurants, bars, and sports and leisure facilities have been closed since Nov. 2 and hotels are allowed only to accommodate business travellers.

When they last conferred on Feb. 10, Merkel and the governors set a target of 35 weekly new cases per 100,000 inhabitants before letting small stores, museums and other businesses reopen. The aim is to enable reliable contact tracing.

But reaching that target soon has appeared increasingly unrealistic as cases of the more contagious variant first detected in Britain increase, with overall infections creeping slightly higher. The cases-per-week number, which peaked at nearly 200 per 100,000 inhabitants just before Christmas, has been stalled above 60 in recent days.

Wedding gown boutique owner Imma Caiano serves customer Denise Magmer and her mother, Sylvia, as her shop reopens after a months-long lockdown in Bad Kreuznach, near Mainz, Germany, on Tuesday. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

Governors and others have called for Wednesday’s video conference to produce step-by-step opening plans that would allow some, albeit cautious, relaxation of restrictions on a regional basis well above the target of 35 — possibly with the help of rapid tests.

Germany has seen the number of deaths from COVID-19 and people in intensive care decline in recent weeks. But it has been struggling to ramp up its vaccination drive, which has drawn widespread criticism for being too slow, even as the supply of vaccines improves. German lawmakers have ditched plans for hefty fines for people who skip the vaccine queue.

Portugal had its fewest COVID-19 patients in hospital in four months on Tuesday, as its prime minister warned that enforcing lockdown curbs remained essential in a country that topped global death rates a month ago.

In Africa, more countries received the long-awaited first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, with Kenya and Rwanda benefiting from the global COVAX initiative that aims to ensure doses for the world’s low- and middle-income nations.

African and other health officials have been frustrated with the sight of a handful of rich countries rolling out vaccines after snapping up large amounts for themselves.

“We will be known as the continent of COVID,” if Africa doesn’t quickly reach its target of vaccinating 60 per cent of its population of 1.3 billion people, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, said last week. The continent last month surpassed 100,000 confirmed deaths.

So far Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Angola and Congo also have received their first vaccine doses via COVAX, with several other countries including Mali, Senegal, Malawi and Uganda set to receive them this week.

Rwanda is becoming the first African nation to receive the Pfizer vaccine via COVAX. The vaccine needs storage at ultra-cold temperatures, making rollout complex in hot countries and rural areas, for example. COVAX has faced delays related to the severely limited global supply of vaccine doses as well as logistical issues.

And COVAX alone will not supply Africa’s 54 countries with the doses needed to reach the 60 per cent population coverage for achieving so-called herd immunity, when enough people are protected through infection or vaccination to make it difficult for a virus to continue to spread.

That’s why some countries such as South Africa, the hardest-hit African nation, are also pursuing COVID-19 vaccines via bilateral deals or via the African Union’s bulk-purchasing program.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9:45 a.m. ET

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Iran indicts 10 over Ukraine plane crash, prosecutor says; Canada demands justice

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DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has indicted 10 officials over the shooting-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January 2020 that killed all 176 people on board, a military prosecutor said on Tuesday.

In a report published last month, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defence operator. Ukraine and Canada, home to many of those who died, criticised the report as insufficient.

“Indictments have been issued for 10 officials involved in the crash of the Ukrainian plane…and necessary decisions will be taken in court,” Gholam Abbas Torki, the outgoing military prosecutor for Tehran province, was quoted as saying by the semi-official news agency ISNA. He did not elaborate.

In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “tremendously concerned about the lack of accountability” from Iran about the disaster.

Canada, along with its partners, will continue to press Tehran to deliver justice and compensation for families of the victims, he told a briefing when asked about the indictments.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight on Jan. 8, 2020, shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport.

The Iranian government later said the shooting-down was a “disastrous mistake” by its forces at a time when they were on high alert in a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

 

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

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Canadian oil producers CNRL, Cenovus plan new emissions targets, no pivot to renewables

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CNRL

By Rod Nickel and Nia Williams

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) -Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) and Cenovus Energy Inc, two of Canada‘s biggest oil producers, said on Tuesday they would set new goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but not pivot away from their core businesses.

Oil sands producers, which extract some of the world’s most carbon-intense crude, face investor pressure to reduce their environmental impact. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to raise Canada‘s carbon price steeply over time to position the country for carbon-neutral status by 2050.

CNRL’s corporate emissions-cutting goal will be announced in the second quarter, President Tim McKay said at the Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium, which is being held remotely.

The company cut carbon intensity per barrel by 18% between 2016 and 2020 and sees carbon capture as a way to further reduce its environmental toll, McKay said.

It does not plan major investments in renewable energy as European oil majors have done.

“The preference is to stick with what we know and what we’re good at,” McKay said. “There’s going to be a need for oil long-term.”

Cenovus is also planning new emissions-cutting targets and might invest in renewable power partnerships.

“Where we’re likely to remain is focused on oil and gas production,” Cenovus Chief Executive Officer Alex Pourbaix told the symposium. “But don’t look for us to become a late-entrant renewable-power developer.”

Suncor Energy Inc is on track to achieve its goal of cutting the emissions intensity of production by 30% versus 2014 levels by 2030, said Chief Financial Officer Alister Cowan, and is now talking about updating its target beyond 2030.

Imperial Oil Ltd could adopt technologies of parent company Exxon Mobil Corp like carbon capture and biofuel blending, Senior Vice President of Finance Dan Lyons said.

“When it comes to wind farms and solar farms, that’s not really in our wheelhouse.”

Sticking to fossil fuels will jeopardize the businesses long-term, said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada.

“They will go the way of Blockbuster Video once Netflix arrived,” Stewart said.

Canada‘s transition to a low-carbon economy could displace up to 450,000 oil and gas workers over the next three decades, TD Economics said.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Peter Cooney)

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Saskatchewan sees bigger, C$2.6-billion deficit to fight pandemic

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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – The Canadian province of Saskatchewan forecast on Tuesday a C$2.6-billion ($2.07 billion)deficit in the current 2021-22 fiscal year, up from last year’s C$1.9 billion, as the pandemic drives up costs.

The province, whose economy relies on farming, oil production and mining, is running a larger deficit so it can effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said.

Canadian provincial governments, like the national government, have run bigger deficits since the pandemic began, trying to slow its spread and buttress economies that lockdowns have hit hard.

With government debt rising, credit rating agencies are watching closely for provincial strategies to tame deficits, TD Economics said in a report last month.

Saskatchewan expects to continue running deficits until balancing the books in 2026-27, the provincial government said while introducing its new budget.

The Saskatchewan Party government, led by Premier Scott Moe, forecast spending to increase by 7% to C$17.1 billion from last year, including costs such as vaccinations, tests for infection and purchases of protective equipment.

It forecast provincial revenues for the 2021-22 fiscal year at C$14.5 billion, up nearly 3% from last year.

Saskatchewan’s real gross domestic product looks to grow 3.4% in 2021 after contracting 4.2% last year, the government said.

The budget assumes an average North American oil futures price of $54.33 per barrel during its fiscal year, generating C$505.1 million in royalties.

Neighboring Alberta estimated in February that its 2021-22 budget deficit would shrink to C$18.2 billion, as its economy starts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

 

 

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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