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COVID ‘shutdown’ coming into effect in Canada’s largest province – Al Jazeera English

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Tighter restrictions will be in place across Ontario until at least January 9, as the province seeks to curb rising COVID-19 infections.

Canada’s most populous province is imposing tighter COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday in an effort to curb rising infections, deaths and hospitalisations linked to the novel coronavirus.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the “provincewide shutdown” earlier this week, saying daily COVID-19 case numbers are putting the healthcare network and long-term care homes at risk.

“We need to stop the spread of this deadly virus. That’s why … we are taking the difficult but necessary decision to shutdown the province and ask people to stay home. Nothing is more important right now than the health and safety of all Ontarians,” Ford said in a statement.

The restrictions, which come into effect at 00:01am local time (05:01 GMT) on Saturday, include a ban on indoor gatherings between people from different households and a 10-person limit outdoors, as well as limits on non-essential businesses.

Big box stores that sell groceries can stay open, however, with capacity limited to 25 percent, while pharmacies and grocery stores can also operate at 50 percent capacity.

People wait in line to get a COVID-19 test at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto as the city entered renewed COVID-19 lockdown in late November [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

The restrictions will be in place across the province until January 9, but they will remain in effect in southern Ontario, including Ottawa and Toronto, until January 23. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has already been under tight COVID-19 rules since late November.

On Thursday, Ontario had a seven-day average of 2,306 new daily cases. That same day, it recorded the highest single-day tally since the start of the pandemic, with 2,447 new infections. Forty-nine additional deaths linked to the virus were also reported.

‘Delayed action’

Some public health experts in Ontario have criticised Ford, saying the premier acted too late and is doing too little to stem the spread of the virus, such as guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers who may fall ill.

Provincial data shows that 27 percent of 923 active COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario are in workplaces.

“What part of ‘now’ and ‘action’ does Mr. Ford not understand?” Globe and Mail newspaper health columnist, Andre Picard, wrote earlier this week.

Picard criticised the premier for announcing the need for urgent measures on December 21 but only imposing the new restrictions five days later – and said the lockdown is hardly a lockdown at all.

“Half-measures and delayed action, an approach Ontario has embraced repeatedly, will not get results,” he wrote.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said this week he was ‘taking the difficult but necessary decision’ to impose tighter restrictions across the Canadian province [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Dr Nadia Alam, a family doctor in Georgetown, Ontario, a town about 60km (37 miles) west of downtown Toronto, told Al Jazeera on Friday that hospitals are full and struggling to handle high numbers of both COVID and non-COVID patients.

She said many nurses and other healthcare workers are doing double shifts, as the network is being stretched to its limits.

“We’ve run out of people. We’ve run out of space. The decisions [Ontarians] make in their individual lives will make or break our healthcare system,” she said.

Alam said the provincewide shutdown is necessary to try to limit peoples’ contact with others and the potential spread of the virus – and she urged people to respect the new, stricter public health directives.

“If lockdown doesn’t work, we’re in trouble. It already feels like we’re in trouble.”

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Canada's vaccine deliveries further threatened as Europe mulls export controls – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he remains confident in Canada’s vaccine supplies despite threats from Europe that it might impose export controls on vaccines produced on that continent.

Speaking to reporters outside his Ottawa residence Tuesday morning, Trudeau said the situation in Europe is worrisome but he is “very confident” Canada is going to get all the COVID-19 vaccine doses promised by the end of March. And despite the sharp decline in deliveries of a vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech this month, he said Canada will still vaccinate all Canadians who want shots by the end of September.

“We will continue to work closely with Europe to ensure that we are sourcing, that we are receiving the vaccines that we have signed for, that we are due,” Trudeau said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a video statement posted to Twitter Tuesday that Europe will set up a “vaccine export transparency mechanism” so Europe knows exactly how many doses are being produced in the world’s largest trading bloc and where they are being shipped.

“Europe invested billions to help develop the world`s first COVID-19 vaccines to create a truly global common good,” she said. “And now the companies must deliver.”

Europe is also getting smaller shipments from Pfizer than promised, because the company temporarily slowed production at its plant in Belgium so it can be expanded.

AstraZeneca has also warned Europe its first shipments of vaccine will be smaller than expected because of production problems.

But Europe, which invested more than C$4 billion in vaccine development, is demanding the companies fulfil their contracts on time.

“Europe is determined to contribute to this global common good but it also means business,” said von der Leyen.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng said she had spoken to her European counterpart, Valdis Dombrovskis, about the situation and will keep working with Europe to keep the supply chain open.

“There is not a restriction on the export of vaccines to Canada,” Ng said in question period.

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner accused Ng of playing games with her response, noting the issue isn’t that there is an export ban now, but that Europe is threatening to impose one.

With all of Canada’s current vaccine doses coming from Europe, “that’s a concern,” Rempel Garner said.

“If the Europeans ban exports of vaccines, what’s Plan B for Canada?” she asked.

Both Pfizer and Moderna are making doses of their vaccine in the U.S. and in Europe, but all U.S.-made doses are currently only shipped within the U.S.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump invoked the Defence Production Act last year to prevent export of personal protection equipment. He then signed an executive order in December demanding U.S.-produced vaccines be prioritized for Americans only and threatened to use the act to halt vaccine exports as well.

President Joe Biden has already invoked the act to push for faster production of PPE and vaccines. Though he has not specifically mentioned exports, Biden has promised 100 million Americans will be vaccinated within his first 100 days of office, making the prospects the U.S. shares any of its vaccine supply unlikely.

Canada has contracts with five other vaccine makers, but only two are on the verge of approval here. AstraZeneca, which has guaranteed Canada 20 million doses, needs to finish a big U.S. trial before Health Canada decides whether to authorize it.

Johnson and Johnson is to report results from its Phase 3 trial next week, one of the final things needed before Health Canada can make a decision about it. Canada is to get 10 million doses from Johnson and Johnson, but it is the one vaccine that so far is administered as only a single dose.

Trudeau said AstraZeneca isn’t supplying Canada from its European production lines. A spokeswoman for Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Canada will not say where the other vaccines are coming from because of the concerns about security of supplies.

AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson have set up multiple production lines in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, India, Australia and Africa. Canada has no current ability to produce either those vaccines or the ones from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. It is entirely reliant on foreign production at the moment.

More than 113,000 people in Canada have received two full doses of either the Moderna or BioNTech vaccine. Another 752,000 have received a single dose.

But the reduction in Pfizer shipments to Canada forced most provinces to slow the pace of injections. Europe, Mexico, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia also have slowed their vaccination campaigns because of the supply limits.

Trudeau said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla assured him the full shipments will resume in mid-February, and that Canada will get its contracted four million doses by the end of March. He said he spoke to Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel Tuesday morning and was promised Moderna’s shipments of two million doses by March 31 are also on track.

MPs were scheduled to have an emergency debate on Canada’s vaccine program Tuesday night.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021

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PM warns Canadians to expect more travel restrictions soon – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is warning Canadians to expect more travel restrictions in the near future.

At his briefing Tuesday, Trudeau reiterated federal public health guidance to avoid all non-essential travel, both abroad and in between provinces.

Trudeau said in French that the constantly evolving news of COVID-19 variants from other countries has spurred the government to look at improving the measures already implemented – and that an announcement would come very soon.

The prime minister also reiterated his previous statements on upcoming travel, telling Canadians to cancel any plans they may have booked, and that while the number of cases linked to traveling abroad are low, “one case is too many.”

Trudeau said the “bad choices of a few” should not be allowed to put others at risk.

Currently, the land border between Canada and the U.S. remains closed to travellers, while international travellers flying into the country must show a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before their departure flight. They then must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Violations of any of these measures can result in charges under the Quarantine Act, with a maximum sentence of six months in jail or fines up to $75,000.

Last week, Quebec Premier Francois Legault called for Ottawa to implement an outright ban on non-essential travel – and as Trudeau said at his Tuesday briefing, “all options are on the table if necessary.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported more than 200 flights, both international and domestic, that have confirmed COVID-19 cases, as well as one VIA Rail train trip.

Overall, travel outside Canada has been deemed the primary cause of 1.4 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada since the start of the pandemic, with contact with a traveller accounting for another one per cent of infections.

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Made-in-Canada coronavirus vaccine starts human clinical trials – CBC.ca

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A made-in-Canada vaccine to protect against COVID-19 began human clinical trials Tuesday in Toronto, says the biotechnology company that developed the vaccine.

Toronto-based Providence Therapeutics said three shots will be given to 60 adult volunteers at a clinical trial site in Toronto in the first phase of the trial on Tuesday. 

Fifteen of those volunteers will receive a placebo, and 45 will get the vaccine, called PTX-COVID19-B.

Brad Sorenson, the company’s CEO, said it’s the first time a vaccine designed and manufactured in Canada has begun clinical trials. The company has purchased a site in Calgary to mass produce the vaccine. 

Vaccines are designed to trigger an immune response in the body. Providence’s product is an mRNA vaccine and is similar to the Moderna coronavirus shot being given to people across Canada.

Quebec-based pharmaceutical Medicago began clinical trials last July of its coronavirus vaccine that is based on another technology. Unlike Providence, a large portion of Medicago’s vaccine doses will be manufactured outside the country, in North Carolina.

A vial is shown in this handout image provided by Providence Therapeutics. The company says it is the first fully made-in-Canada coronavirus vaccine to reach clinical trials in this country. (Providence Therapeutics/The Canadian Press)

Medicago’s vaccine is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials — the last stage before it can apply for approval from Health Canada and other regulators to market the product. 

Sorenson said Providence designed and built its vaccine last March.

“We reached out to the Canadian government in April and said, ‘Hey, you’ve heard of Moderna. We’re doing the exact same thing,'” Sorenson said in an interview.

“We went from concept into the clinic in under a year without the same level of support as our peers had.”

Purchased Calgary site

The federal government provided financial sponsorship and support for the early phase clinical trial through the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program. 

Currently, Canada lacks the capacity to manufacture the millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines needed to immunize people outside of a clinical trial setting. It’s why the federal government struck deals with Pfizer and Moderna — both manufactured abroad — to obtain the vaccines being rolled out across Canada.

While the company was developing the vaccine in pre-clinical studies, Sorenson said it also started to build the infrastructure to manufacture the vaccine in Canada as well.

A typical vaccination station is seen at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg on Dec. 14. Currently, Canada lacks the capacity to manufacture the millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines needed to immunize people outside of a clinical trial setting. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The company purchased a 20,000-square-foot facility in Calgary that includes 12,000 square feet of lab space to mass produce the vaccine. The facility will be up and running in two months, Sorensen said. 

Pending regulatory approval, a larger Phase 2 trial with adults over 65, youths under 18 and pregnant people could start in May, Sorenson said.

Initial focus was cancer research

If the vaccine proves safe and effective in clinical trials and Health Canada approves it, the goal is to have it ready for the global market by January 2022.

Sorenson founded Providence Therapeutics in 2013 to focus on cancer vaccines.

Several scientists contributed to the pre-clinical research on Providence’s vaccine, including those at the lab of Dr. Mario Ostrowski, a scientist at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science and an infectious disease clinician at St. Michael’s Hospital, Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Dr. Samira Mubareka and Dr. Rob Kozak at Sunnybrook Research Institute, as well as Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist.

In August, Ostrowski, whose laboratory performed the animal trials, said results were on par with tests of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech at that stage.

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