WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The first shipments of coronavirus vaccines have arrived across the European Union as authorities prepared to administer the first shots to the most vulnerable people in a coordinated effort on Sunday.
The vaccines developed by BioNTech and Pfizer arrived by truck in warehouses across the continent on Friday and early Saturday after being sent from a manufacturing center in Belgium before Christmas.
The rollout marks a moment of hope for a region that includes some of the world’s earliest and worst-hit virus hot spots, including Italy and Spain, and others, like the Czech Republic, that were spared the worst early on only to see their healthcare systems near their breaking points in the fall.
Germany, Hungary and Slovakia began giving out their first coronavirus vaccine shots on Saturday only hours after receiving their first shipments, upsetting the European Union’s plans for a coordinated rollout Sunday across the bloc’s 27 nations.
Altogether, the 27 EU member states have seen at least 16 million cases of the coronavirus and more than 336,000 deaths.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen released a video celebrating the vaccine rollout, calling it “a touching moment of unity.”
“Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year. The COVID-19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries. Vaccination will begin tomorrow across the EU,” she said.
The vaccine rollout will help the bloc project a sense of unity in a complex lifesaving mission after it faced a year of difficulties in negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain. It also brings a sigh of relief for EU politicians who were frustrated after Britain, Canada and the United States began their vaccination programs earlier this month.
“It’s here, the good news at Christmas,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a news conference Saturday. “At this moment, trucks are underway across Europe, across Germany and its regions, to deliver the first vaccine. More deliveries will follow the day after tomorrow. This vaccine is the decisive key to end this pandemic.”
“It is the key to getting our lives back,” Spahn said.
The rollout is the result of coordination on the part of all 27 member states, helping the bloc to also project a sense of unity in a lifesaving mission of logistical complexity after difficulties in negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain.
The first doses, however, are limited to just under 10,000 doses in most countries, with the mass vaccination programs expected to begin only in January.
Each country is deciding on its own who will get the first shots — but they are all putting the most vulnerable first.
French authorities said they will prioritize the elderly, based on the high impact on older populations in previous virus surges in France. The French medical safety agency will monitor for eventual problems.
Germany, where the pandemic has cost more than 30,000 lives, will begin with those over 80 and people who take care of vulnerable groups.
Spanish authorities said early Saturday that the first batch of the coronavirus vaccine to reach the country had arrived in the central city of Guadalajara — where the first shots will be administered on Sunday morning at a nursing home.
A nurse in Rome at Spallanzani Hospital, the main infectious diseases facility in Italy’s capital, should be the first in the country to receive the vaccine, followed by other health personnel.
In Poland, the first two people to be vaccinated on Sunday will be a nurse and a doctor at the Interior Ministry hospital in Warsaw, the main coronavirus hospital in the capital, followed by medical personnel in dozens of other hospitals.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently called it the patriotic duty of Poles to get vaccinated — a message directed at a society where there is a high degree of vaccine hesitancy born from a general distrust of authorities.
In Bulgaria, where suspicions also run high, the first person to get the shot will be Health Minister Kostadin Angelov, who has promised an aggressive campaign to promote the benefits of the shots.
In Croatia, where the first batch of 9,750 vaccines arrived early on Saturday, a care home resident in Zagreb, the capital, will be the first to receive the vaccine on Sunday morning, according to state HRT TV.
HRT TV also reported that authorities would launch a pro-vaccination campaign that will include celebrities and other public figures getting the vaccine on camera.
“We have been waiting for this for a year now,” Romanian Prime Minister Florin Catu said on Saturday after the first batch of the vaccine arrived at a military-run storage facility there.
The vaccinations begin as the first cases of a new variant of the virus that has been spreading in the UK have now been detected in France and Spain. The new variant has caused several European countries to restrict traffic with Britain.
A French man living in England arrived in France on Dec. 19 and tested positive for the new variant Friday, the French public health agency said in a statement. He has no symptoms and is isolating in his home in the central city of Tours.
Meanwhile, health authorities in the Madrid region said they had confirmed the variant in four people, all of whom are in good health. Regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero said that the new strain had arrived when an infected person flew into Madrid’s airport.
German pharmaceutical company BioNTech is confident that its coronavirus vaccine works against the new UK variant, but further studies are needed to be completely certain.
COVID deaths rise to 53 in Northern Health – Prince George Citizen
One more person in the Northern Health region has died from COVID-19, according to B.C. Centre for Disease Control numbers issued Tuesday.
The fatality increased the total to 53 in the region since the pandemic broke out and was among 12 deaths reported province-wide, increasing that total to 1,090 deaths. Seven of those new deaths were in Fraser Health, raising the total there to 611.
Active cases in Northern Health stood at 525, down by six from the day before, with 40 in hospital, no change from Monday, and 17 of them in intensive care, up by one.
For B.C. as a whole, active cases rose by six to 4,331, with Fraser Health accounting for 1,737, up 34, and Vancouver Coastal 818, down 35. Interior Health stood at 1,055, Vancouver Island at 184 and out of Canada at 12 with marginal changes in those totals from Monday.
Meanwhile, Northern Health reported a new exposure D.P. Todd Secondary School. It is for Jan. 11-12 and is the second time the school has been put on the list.
“If your child’s school has been notified of an exposure, no action is required unless you are contacted by Public Health or are otherwise directed by school officials,” Northern Health says in the posting. “Public Health will contact you directly in case of any school exposure involving your child.”
In a joint statement, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix stressed good practices while people wait for the vaccine rollout.
“The vaccines are our path forward to the brighter days ahead. However, until that path is wide enough for everyone, we must continue to focus on our individual efforts,” they said.
“To get to the finish line faster and to make our communities safer, we must stop the spread in our communities today. We do that by following the measures we have in place: washing our hands, staying home when we are ill, getting tested and always using our layers of protection.
“Let’s choose safety by continuing to do our part to protect everyone in our province.”
Also on Tuesday, Dix said B.C. is still on track to begin administering second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine despite the news that no vials will be delivered to Canada next week.
COVID-19 update: B.C.'s health ministry to reveal latest new cases, deaths, outbreaks – CTV News Vancouver
British Columbia reported another 465 cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths related to the disease on Tuesday.
The province has now recorded a total of 61,912 coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic and 1,090 fatalities.
In a joint statement, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix offered condolences to “everyone who lost their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Another 443 people have recovered from the disease since B.C.’s last update, leaving 4,331 active cases across the province.
That includes 329 patients in hospital, 70 of whom are in intensive care.
The province has seen an average of 479 cases per day over the last week, which is similar to the number of infections that were being identified at end of December.
The rolling seven-day average increased to 582 cases per day after the first week of January, but has been gradually decreasing since.
Tuesday’s COVID-19 update came hours after the federal government confirmed Canada would not be receiving any new shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week. The country received 82 per cent of its expected shipment this week as a result of previously announced delays.
B.C. was expecting to receive about 5,800 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week, though Dix said the province still expects to be able to deliver second doses as scheduled.
Health officials have decided on a 35-day interval between doses, and Wednesday will mark 36 days from when B.C. began administering its first shots.
The province should be receiving 25,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine per week after the shortage ends, according to Dix.
While British Columbians await their turn to get immunized against COVID-19, Henry and Dix stressed the need to continue their individual efforts to limit the spread of the disease.
“To get to the finish line faster and to make our communities safer, we must stop the spread in our communities today. We do that by following the measures we have in place: washing our hands, staying home when we are ill, getting tested and always using our layers of protection,” they said.
“Let’s choose safety by continuing to do our part to protect everyone in our province.”
With files from The Canadian Press
City of Winnipeg allowed employees to use its gyms during code red – CTV News Winnipeg
The City of Winnipeg has been allowing its employees to use gyms and fitness centres at its facilities amid code red restrictions due to an exemption for governments in health orders.
The City of Winnipeg confirmed to CTV News on Tuesday evening that fitness facilities in Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Winnipeg Police Service stations, along with six other facilities, have been open and operating for city employees only under a reduced capacity limit.
The city said these centres were used predominantly by first responders working in or near the buildings.
Under current health orders that have been in place in Manitoba since Nov. 12, all indoor sporting or recreational facilities, including gyms and fitness facilities, must be closed. Though some restrictions are expected to be eased when health orders expire on Friday, the province said gyms and fitness centres will be required to remain closed for now.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said while the City of Winnipeg was not specifically given permission to operate its in-house gyms, the health orders that required gyms and fitness centres to close do not apply to any level of government.
“We expect governments to be able to regulate and so we’re not going to tell governments how they function,” Roussin said. “If they feel that they could have limited capacity and run these gyms for their employees for certain reasons, then we’re not regulating that.”
Roussin said if gyms and fitness centres were allowed to open across Manitoba, it could cause cases to spike.
He said he was aware that health inspectors visited some of the gyms operating at City of Winnipeg facilities, and found them safe.
Transcona Coun. Shawn Nason blew the whistle on social media about the city’s operation of fitness centres during code red restrictions.
“I’m disappointed in myself for being so distracted with the business at City Hall to have not raised the issue sooner than when I became aware today that the City was not covered under the blanket rules assigned by (the) Province,” Nason said in a statement to CTV News.
“Even though I didn’t access the gym at any time during the Code Red restrictions, we should respect the provincial orders and align ourselves with so many that have had to shutter their businesses due (to) this unprecedented time.”
A spokesperson for the city told CTV News the city was not aware until today that it was being allowed to operate its fitness centres solely because it is a municipal government.
“Several months ago, we sought clarification from provincial public health officials on whether fitness facilities within civic workplaces accessible only to, and for City employees, could remain open,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“The province advised us that these facilities could in fact continue to operate provided posted capacity limits and physical guidelines were maintained and adhered to.”
Despite the exemption, they said effective immediately the city is closing its employee fitness centres.
Fitness centres at Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Winnipeg Police Service stations will continue to operate because “mandatory fitness standards are a requirement of first responders’ jobs.”
“We will continue to encourage our employees to explore alternative ways of maintaining their physical health while adhering to public health guidelines,” they said.
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