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

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The latest:

  • N.L. ends regional lockdown, reports no new cases for 1st time in 5 weeks.
  • U.S. to buy an additional 100 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses.
  • Quebec, Alberta expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility.
  • Significantly higher death rate reported for coronavirus variant first detected in U.K.
  • Biden’s massive COVID-19 relief bill expected to get final congressional approval.
  • Texas lifts mask and business occupancy restrictions.
  • Have a question about the coronavirus pandemic? You can reach us at COVID@cbc.ca

The United States Congress sped toward final approval Wednesday of a landmark $1.9-trillion US COVID-19 relief bill, as President Joe Biden and Democrats neared a major triumph for the party’s priorities.

The House was on track to use a virtual party-line vote to approve the 628-page measure, which represents Democrats’ effort to revive the enfeebled economy. Four days after the Senate passed the measure over unanimous Republican opposition, Republican House counterparts were poised to do the same for a bill they’ve characterized as bloated, crammed with liberal policies and heedless of signs the dual crises are easing.

Democrats rejected those complaints.

“I call upon my Republican colleagues to stop their March madness and show some compassion for their constituents who are less than wealthy,” said No. 3 House Democratic Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina as the House debated the legislation.

In this May 7, 2020 file photo, a pedestrian walks by The Framing Gallery, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Grosse Pointe, Mich. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

For Biden and the Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they’ve painted their core beliefs — that government programs can be a benefit, not a bane, to millions of people and that spending huge sums on such efforts can be a cure, not a curse.

They were also empowered by three dynamics: their unfettered control of the White House and Congress, polls showing robust support for Biden’s approach and a moment when most voters care little that the national debt is soaring toward a stratospheric $22 trillion US.

Help for lower- and middle-income families

A dominant feature of the bill are initiatives making it one of the biggest federal thrusts in years to assist lower- and middle-income families. Included are expanded tax credits over the next year for children, child care and family leave, plus spending for renters, food programs and people’s utility bills.

The measure provides up to $1,400 US direct payments to most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits, and hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, schools, state and local governments, and ailing industries from airlines to concert halls. There is aid for farmers of colour and pension systems, and subsidies for consumers buying health insurance and states expanding Medicaid coverage for lower earners.

Its very expansiveness is a chief GOP talking point.

“It’s not focused on COVID relief. It’s focused on pushing more of the far-left agenda,” said No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Texas rolls back restrictions

The moves out of Congress come as vaccination efforts continue across the U.S. As of Tuesday, 18.4 per cent of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Biden is expected to announce Wednesday that the U.S. is buying an additional 100 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

The drugmaker is already obligated to supply 100 million doses to the federal government by the end of June. The additional vaccine doses would be delivered in the months following.

Meanwhile, Texans are waking up on Wednesday with a statewide mask mandate and occupancy restrictions on businesses lifted, a move some heralded as freedom and others as foolishness.

Caution tape promotes physical distancing at a bar in Houston on Tuesday as Texas prepares to lift its mask mandate and reopen businesses to full capacity. (Callaghan O’Hare/Reuters)

On paper, Texas’s rollback of coronavirus mitigation efforts is the most sweeping seen in the United States, along with a similar measure in Mississippi. In practice, vast swaths of Texas have rarely enforced mask or occupancy mandates in the past year, anyway.

Several major retailers, grocery stores and restaurant chains in Texas said they would still require that masks be worn in their stores, which under Gov. Greg Abbott’s order relaxing restrictions is their right to do.

– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 12:45 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

As of 12:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had reported 895,632 cases of COVID-19, with 30,456 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,330.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada has been warned of manufacturing problems plaguing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with a target date for the first deliveries still unknown.

The viral vector vaccine developed by J&J’s subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, was authorized by Health Canada as safe and effective last week. Canada pre-ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, which is the first and only one in Canada’s plan that requires only one dose.

As of noon on Tuesday, more than 1.9 million Canadians have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, about five per cent of the population.

WATCH | COVID-19 vaccines protecting elderly despite limited outbreaks, experts say:

Despite concerns about several COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes where residents have been vaccinated, experts say vaccines have significantly reduced severe cases and deaths from the virus. 3:48

In Nunavut, restrictions in the community of Arviat were lifted on Wednesday. Businesses, workplaces and daycares can reopen, while schools can reopen part-time.

The territory is reporting no new cases and one recovery to bring its total number of active cases down to 22, all of them in Arviat.

Dr. Michael Patterson, the territory’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday the decision to lift restrictions was made because there is no evidence of COVID-19 circulating uncontrolled in the community.

Saskatchewan also relaxed some restrictions on Tuesday, allowing indoor home gatherings of up to 10 people — though the 10 people should be from two to three consistent households — and, starting March 19, increasing capacity for worship services.

An epidemiologist in the province is warning against lifting restrictions too quickly, pointing out the province still has the highest per capita seven-day average of daily new cases. Health officials reported 113 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Tuesday.

​​​​​WATCH | Veterinarian on joining the ranks of COVID vaccinators in Quebec:

Veterinarian Dr. Caroline Kilsdonk is among those from different professions who are pitching in for the vaccination campaign. A welcome duty, she says, caring deeply about the elderly. 1:03

Meanwhile, vaccination efforts are picking up across Canada. In Quebecall residents who are at least 70 years old can now book an appointment for their COVID-19 shot.

Since the province started administering doses to the general population, the minimum age requirement for registration has varied from region to region.

Quebec reported 792 new cases and 10 new deaths on Wednesday. Across the province, 581 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19, including 112 in intensive care.

In Alberta, anyone who was born in 1957 can start booking their AstraZeneca vaccine through Alberta Health Service beginning at 8 a.m. local time today. Appointments also open for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people born in 1972.

It’s the first step in a staggered distribution plan for Albertans between the ages of 50 and 64 who want this particular vaccine and do not have a severe chronic illness. The province says appointments will be rolled out in stages by birth year, as long as supplies last.

Raphael Jaranillo, 77, prepares to receive his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Canadian Martyrs Seniors Residence in Toronto on Monday. As of Wednesday, 978,797 total vaccine doses have been administered in Ontario. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario, meanwhile, is expected to unveil details this afternoon on how and where residents aged 60 to 64 years old can book an appointment to get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The province is reporting 1,316 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 new deaths on Wednesday. There were 678 people in hospital due to the illness, including 281 in ICU.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases on Wednesday as health officials announced some public health restrictions will be lifted in the Avalon Peninsula.

The region has been in lockdown since early February, after an outbreak of the coronavirus variant B117 swept through the area.

Starting Friday, some non-essential businesses in the Avalon may open, such as hair salons and retail stores. Daycares can also operate at full capacity, but recreational facilities will stay dark.

In other provincial and territorial updates, Nova Scotia reported one new COVID-19 case on Wednesday, while New Brunswick and Yukon reported no new cases.

Here’s a look at what else is happening across the country:

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


What’s happening around the world

As of 11:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, more than 117.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 66.7 million of those cases listed as recovered by Johns Hopkins University, which maintains a case-tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 2.6 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistan has started vaccinating people who are 60 years old or above to protect them from COVID-19 amid a steady increase in cases and fatalities from the disease.

Pakistan is currently using China’s Sinopharm vaccine, which was donated to it by Beijing last month. Pakistan hopes to start receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine this month under the World Health Organization’s COVAX Facility.

Japan has decided to stage this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics without overseas spectators due to public concern about COVID-19, Kyodo news agency said on Tuesday, citing officials with knowledge of the matter.

The Tokyo 2020 games organizing committee said in response that a decision would be made by the end of March. The Olympics, postponed by a year because of the pandemic, are scheduled for July 23 to Aug. 8 and the Paralympics from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

A woman walks past the Olympic rings in Tokyo on Wednesday. Japan will reportedly stage this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics without overseas spectators. (Koji Sasahara/The Associated Press)

In the Americas, Mexico is turning to China to fill a vaccine shortfall with an order for 22 million doses, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said, a week after the U.S. ruled out sharing vaccines with Mexico in the short term.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the Mexican government has signed agreements for 12 million doses of the yet-unapproved Sinopharm vaccine and increased to a total of 20 million doses its contracts for the Coronavac dose made by China’s Sinovac.

In Africa, Mauritius has gone into lockdown and suspended flights in and out of the island for two weeks following the discovery of 15 more cases of COVID-19, the Mauritius state tourism agency said on Wednesday. All residents and visitors are being asked to stay at home or in their hotels until March 25.

The Indian Ocean island of 1.4 million people has had 641 confirmed coronavirus cases with 10 deaths.

Zimbabwe has authorized the emergency use of four COVID-19 vaccines — Sinopharm and Sinovac shots from China, Russia’s Sputnik V and India’s Covaxin — the minister of information said on Tuesday.

The country of 15 million has recorded 36,321 coronavirus cases and 1,489 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Women do their laundry next to signs reminding people to wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at a farm on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe, on March 4. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/The Associated Press)

In Europe, the European Commission says it has secured an agreement with Pfizer-BioNTech for an extra four million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for its 27 nations to tackle the surge of cases in several coronavirus clusters.

The European Union mentioned Tyrol in Austria, Nice and Moselle in France, Bolzano in Italy, and some parts of Bavaria and Saxony in Germany where COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on the rise. The Commission said the new doses will be made available to all member states on a pro-rata basis this month.

Overall, the EU has six contracts for more than two billion doses of vaccines to inoculate its 450 million people.

Portugal is joining other European countries in extending the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to people age 65 and over, after initial uncertainty about its effectiveness in that age group.

In the United Kingdom, researchers are reporting that a highly infectious coronavirus variant that was first discovered in Britain late last year is between 30 per cent and 100 per cent more deadly than previous dominant variants.

The B117 variant was first detected in Britain in September 2020, and has since also been found in more than 100 other countries.

Students take coronavirus tests at a school in Birmingham, England, on Monday. Millions of British children returned to school this week after a two-month closure. (Jacob King/PA/The Associated Press)

In the Middle East, Palestinian hospitals are overfull and intensive-care units operating at 100 per cent capacity with coronavirus patients in some areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday.

Palestinian cities have introduced full lockdowns over the last two weeks to control soaring COVID-19 infections, even as neighbouring Israel has begun to lift restrictions as it proceeds with one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns.

– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 11:30 a.m. ET

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U.S. confirms it will accept Canadian travellers with mixed vaccines – CBC.ca

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Canadians with mixed vaccines and U.S. travel plans can breathe a sigh of relief tonight. 

Following weeks of speculation, the United States confirmed late Friday it will accept mixed vaccines when new rules kick in on Nov. 8 requiring that foreign travellers entering the U.S. be fully vaccinated. 

Individuals inoculated with any combination of two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization will be considered fully vaccinated, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told CBC News.

WHO-approved vaccines include Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and its Indian-made counterpart, Covishield. So travellers with any combination of these vaccines will be allowed to enter the U.S. 

The CDC does not recognize mixing COVID-19 vaccines but said it updated its guidance to reflect growing global acceptance of the practice. 

“While CDC has not recommended mixing types of vaccine in a primary series, we recognize that this is increasingly common in other countries so should be accepted for the interpretation of vaccine records,” CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said in an email. 

Ingrid and John Whyte of Toronto are set to fly to Florida to spend the winter at a condo they own in Naples, Fla. The snowbirds are relieved to hear the U.S. will accept their mixed vaccines. (Submitted by Ingrid Whyte)

Millions of Canadians have mixed doses of COVID-19 vaccines. When the U.S. recently announced it would impose a vaccination requirement for travellers entering by both land and air, many Canadians with mixed doses worried they might soon be barred from entering the country. 

“We felt kind of blindsided,” said snowbird, Ingrid Whyte of Toronto. Following Canadian government guidance, she and her husband, John, each got one dose of Covishield and a second dose of Pfizer.

“We did everything that we were supposed to do in terms of getting vaccines,” Whyte said.

The couple had booked a flight to Florida for Nov. 17, but cancelled it due to concerns over their mixed vaccines. They’re now relieved to hear their vaccine combination won’t be an issue when entering the U.S. 

“We are thrilled,” Whyte said. “I wish it could have been a little sooner. It would have allowed people to plan a little bit more effectively. But in the long run, it’s great news.”

It’s also good news for Petar Sesar of London, Ont., who has a mix of Moderna and Pfizer.

Petar Sesar of London, Ont., was relieved to learn his vaccine mix of Moderna and Pfizer wouldn’t bar him from entering the U.S. to visit his fiancée, Mara Bakula, who lives in Cleveland. (Submitted by Petar Sesar)

Sesar’s fiancée, Mara Bakula, lives in Cleveland. Sesar welcomed news this week that the U.S. land border will reopen on Nov. 8 to non-essential travellers, as he prefers to drive instead of fly to Cleveland. 

However, he worried he might have no U.S. travel options come Nov. 8 if the country rejected his vaccine mix. 

“That was a very scary moment,” he said. “It felt like house arrest of sorts, like now I [may] have no option.”

Earlier this year, the CDC stated online that a mix of two mNRA vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, would be accepted in “exceptional situations.” But Sesar didn’t rest easy until he learned that the CDC had approved his exact combination. 

“It is unbelievable,” he said. “It is such a relief. I share the relief with millions of [Canadians].”

Where does the U.S. stand now on mixed vaccines?

Canada updated its vaccination guidelines in June to recommend mixing COVID-19 vaccine doses based on emerging research that found it was both safe and effective.

Meanwhile, the CDC still maintains that “data on the safety and efficacy of a mixed-product series are limited.”

But that could change. 

The U.S. recently conducted a study exploring the effectiveness of using a different COVID-19 vaccine as a booster shot. 

This week, U.S. authorities met to review the data which so far suggests mixing vaccines is safe and effective.

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Canadian politicians warn of political violence after U.K. MP is stabbed to death – CBC.ca

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Shocked and saddened by the killing of a long-serving British MP on Friday, Canadian politicians say the threat of a similar incident in Canada appears to be growing.

David Amess, 69, was fatally stabbed around noon on Friday while meeting with constituents in Leigh-on-Sea, a town about 62 kilometres east of London.

The Conservative lawmaker had been a member of Parliament for 38 years.

“The MP who was murdered was doing something that we all do as members of Parliament,” said Lisa Raitt, a former Conservative MP and cabinet minister.

“When it’s part of your job, and a fundamental part of your job, it really shook me up.”

For Canadian politicians who have faced harassment and threats of violence, Amess’s death was a startling reminder of the danger that can come with serving as an elected official.

“News like this … I saw this and it just really hit me in the gut,” said Michelle Rempel Garner, the Conservative MP for Calgary Nose Hill.

Police in the U.K. have arrested a 25-year-old man in connection with Amess’s death. He has not been identified.

Rempel Garner said she’s experienced multiple instances of public harassment and received a death threat at her office during the summer election campaign. She said the political climate in Canada is experiencing an escalation of vitriol unlike anything she’s seen before in her 10 years as an MP.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said she was harassed and threatened with death during the summer election. ‘I’m not safe in public,’ she said. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“This last campaign, for me, I have never felt so unsafe,” Rempel Garner told CBC News. She said the next Parliament should do more to ensure the safety of its members.

“Something has changed and it has not changed for the good.”

‘Intensity’ of violence growing

The summer election campaign was marred by repeated incidents of violence and vandalism targeting candidates from across the political spectrum. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was pelted with gravel at a campaign stop in London, Ont. as anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters doggedly followed his campaign.

Far-right extremist groups were also said to be more active than in any prior campaign.

“I’m pretty sure that the same groups of people that were attacking the prime minister on the campaign trail were the same people that were after me on the campaign trail,” Rempel Garner said.

Barbara Perry, a criminology professor who studies extremism at Ontario Tech University, said the campaign made it clear that the threat of political violence has become very real in Canada.

“The pattern is not new. I think the intensity and the breadth of the problem is different and changing,” Perry said. 

She said that while women and people of colour have long faced serious threats of violence in the political sphere, that danger appears to be more widespread now.

A vandalized campaign sign for Liberal candidate Dominic LeBlanc. (Instagram/Dominic LeBlanc)

“It seems as if that has broadened out to represent a risk to virtually anyone who runs for office or holds office now,” Perry said.

“I don’t know if it’s social media, I don’t know what it is,” Raitt said. She described the shift in tone as an “undercurrent of anger and a lack of respect for the job that’s being done.”

Former MP says better security needed at local offices

Raitt said she began taking extra safety precautions about halfway through her time in office, which ran from from 2008 to 2019. Those precautions included installing a panic button at her constituency office and rearranging the space to create obstacles that would make an attack more difficult.

She said those measures were meant to help protect her staff during visits from “very angry people who wanted action immediately.”

Raitt said current MPs would be wise to focus on security at their local offices rather than on Parliament Hill, where security is much more robust.

Perry also laid some blame at the feet of political parties and politicians. She said the embrace of attack-style politics may be fuelling some of the anger that is now threatening politicians themselves.

“The parties themselves have escalated the personalization of issues, blaming individual politicians rather than parties or processes,” she said.

“Even politicians themselves have to be very careful in their language so as not to enhance the kind of polarization that can lead to this sort of hostility and violence.”

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Horse race marks Sydney’s emergence from long COVID-19 lockdown

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Thousands of Sydney residents flocked to a prominent horse race on Saturday, as Australia’s biggest city emerges from a strict COVID-19 lockdown and the nation begins to live with the coronavirus through extensive vaccination.

Up to 10,000 fully vaccinated spectators can now attend races such as The Everest https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/horse-racing-third-time-lucky-nature-strip-everest-2021-10-16 in Sydney, Australia’s richest turf horse race, and the country’s most famous, Melbourne Cup Day, on Nov. 2.

New South Wales State, of which Sydney is the capital, reached its target of 80% of people fully vaccinated on Saturday, well ahead of the rest of Australia.

“80% in NSW! Been a long wait but we’ve done it,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Twitter.

The state reported 319 new coronavirus cases, all of the Delta variant, and two deaths on Saturday. Many restrictions were eased in New South Wales on Monday, when it reached 70% double vaccinations.

Neighbouring Victoria, where the capital Melbourne has been in lockdown for weeks, reported 1,993 new cases and seven deaths, including the state’s youngest victim, a 15-year-old girl.

Victoria is expected to reach 70% double vaccination before Oct. 26 and ease its restrictions more slowly than New South Wales has, drawing criticism from the federal government on Saturday.

“It is really sad that Victorians are being held back,” said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Australia is set to gradually lift its 18-month ban on international travel https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/covid-19-infections-linger-near-record-levels-australias-victoria-2021-10-14 from next month for some states when 80% of people aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated. As of Friday, 67.2% of Australians were fully inoculated, and 84.4% had received at least one shot.

The country closed its international borders in March 2020, since then allowing only a limited number of people to leave or citizens and permanent residents abroad to return, requiring them to quarantine for two weeks.

Australia’s overall coronavirus numbers are low compared to many other developed countries, with just over 140,000 cases and 1,513 deaths.

(Reporting in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)

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