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Today's coronavirus news: COVID-19 vaccinations in Ontario to return to full operations today after holiday scale down; more hospitalizations in England currently than at the first peak in the spring – Toronto Star

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The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

5:21 a.m. India has found six people who returned from the United Kingdom in recent weeks infected with a new variant of the coronavirus.

The health ministry in a statement on Tuesday said that all the six patients were isolated and their fellow travellers were tracked down. Close contacts of the infected patients were also put under quarantine.

India previously suspended flights from and to the UK until the end of the year, noting the new variant is “spreading and growing rapidly.”

5:17 a.m. Israel’s Health Ministry says the country has vaccinated more people in nine days than have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

The ministry said Tuesday that nearly 500,000 people, or about 5% of Israel’s population of 9 million, have already received the vaccine since the country began its inoculation drive last week. More than 407,000 people have caught the virus in Israel, and over 3,200 have died.

Israel is hoping a mass vaccination campaign will help bring its current outbreak under control and ultimately wipe out the virus entirely. This week the country entered its third national lockdown, with much of the economy shut down to help bring down surging infection numbers.

5:12 a.m. German authorities say the coronavirus variant found in Britain has been detected in samples from two patients who were infected in northern Germany in November.

The health ministry in Lower Saxony state said late Monday that the samples were tested more thoroughly after news of the new variant emerged in Britain, regional public broadcaster NDR reported. They were taken in November from an elderly man with other medical conditions who later died and from his wife.

The ministry said the man’s daughter had been in England in mid-November and likely was infected there.

5:10 a.m. Official figures show more people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in England than at the first peak of the outbreak in the spring.

There were 20,426 patients in hospitals as of Monday morning — the last day for which figures are available — compared to the previous high of 18,974 on April 12.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of Britain’s National Health Service, said health care workers are back in “the eye of the storm” as they had been in the spring.

British authorities are blaming a new variant of the coronavirus, first identified in southeast England, for soaring infection rates. Almost half of England’s population is under tight restrictions on movement and on everyday life in an attempt to curb the spread.

5:04 a.m. The first study of the safety and effectiveness of a coronavirus vaccine in Iran began Tuesday, state TV reported, with dozens due to receive the domestically developed shot in the hardest-hit country in the Middle East.

The vaccine, produced by Shifa Pharmed, part of a state-owned pharmaceutical conglomerate, is the first in the country to reach human trials. President Hassan Rouhani has said Iran is co-operating with a “foreign country” to produce another vaccine expected to run in tests in human volunteers in February, without offering further details.

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Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the region, which has infected over 1.2 million people and killed nearly 55,000.

The study, a Phase 1 clinical trial, will enrol a total of 56 volunteers to receive two shots of Iran’s vaccine within two weeks, according to Hamed Hosseini, a clinical trial manager, with results to be announced roughly a month after the second shot. Three people received the first injections on Tuesday at a ceremony at a Tehran hotel attended by the country’s health minister. Authorities expect to the vaccine to hit the market by late spring 2021.

Tuesday 5 a.m. COVID-19 vaccinations in Ontario are expected to return to full operations today after being scaled down over the holidays.

The province says five vaccination clinics were open on Sunday, 10 were back in action Monday and all of them are set to resume immunizations today.

The latest numbers released show more than 11,000 shots have been administered in Ontario since the province received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine mid-month.

The drug’s storage requirements mean it will be used primarily in hospitals, while the more recently approved Moderna vaccine will go to long-term care homes, congregate settings and more rural communities.

Critics have taken issue with the pause in vaccinations over the holidays, saying the province can’t afford to delay immunizations.

The province did not release its daily tally of new COVID-19 cases and deaths on Monday, meaning today’s numbers will cover two days.

Monday 9:57 p.m.: South Korea says 40 more coronavirus patients have died in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number since the pandemic began.

Officials also reported 1,046 new confirmed coronavirus infections Tuesday, taking the total caseload to 58,725, with 859 deaths.

South Korea’s previous daily high for COVID-19 deaths was 24, reported on both Dec. 21 and Dec. 22.

Some observers say surging fatalities reflect an increase in cluster infections at nursing homes and long-term care centres where elderly people with underlying health problems stay.

Click here to read more of Monday’s COVID-19 coverage.

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Some provinces see positive signs in COVID fight, but hospitalizations a concern – Red Deer Advocate

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Some provincial authorities saw encouraging signs in the fight against COVID-19 on Monday, even as experts warned that it’s too soon to draw conclusions from the data and provinces scrambled to deal with a looming shortage of Pfizer vaccines.

Officials in both Quebec and Manitoba noted that case numbers have dropped slightly in recent days and suggested that their populations’ efforts to control the virus could be paying off.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said case numbers in his province appeared to be dipping.

“We’re definitely not out of the woods,” he told a news conference as the province reported 118 cases. “We certainly still have a long way to go before we can return to normal.”

Roussin said the province is looking at easing some restrictions in the coming days, but that any changes would be gradual.

Quebec reported 1,634 new COVID-19 cases, which included about 200 from the previous day that weren’t noted because of a delay. The province had broken the 3,000-case mark in early January and has a seven-day rolling average of more than 1,900 cases a day.

Health Minister Christian Dube noted on Twitter that the Quebec City region in particular had seen a decline in the number of new infections recently, which he saw as a sign that “the sacrifices that we’re asking of Quebecers are bearing fruit.” However, he asked Quebecers to continue their efforts in order to reduce the number of hospitalizations, which rose Monday after three straight days of decline.

Universite de Montreal public health professor Benoit Masse said it will take another week or two to know whether the downward trend will be sustained and to gauge the impact of the recently imposed curfew. He said the province should know more by Feb. 8, when curfew restrictions are set to lift.

Ontario also reported its lowest number of COVID-19 cases since early January, with 2,578 new infections, but the province completed a little more than 40,000 tests Sunday, compared with more than 60,000 the day before.

Nova Scotia also reported no new cases for the second time this month.

The news was less positive in New Brunswick, where the Edmundston region entered the province’s highest pandemic-alert level, ushering in new restrictions on businesses in the region after a record-breaking number of new cases on Sunday. The province reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday after recording 36 the day before.

Provinces were also reviewing their vaccine programs to contend with a reduced supply of Pfizer-BioNTech doses after the company said last week it was cutting back on promised deliveries over the next month as it works to expand production.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that his province was pausing appointments for people to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine due to the supply shortage.

“Even with a new shipment of Pfizer expected later this week, we won’t have enough supply to continue with new first-dose appointments,” he said, adding that the province had set aside vaccines for people who were due for their second doses, and those appointments would continue.

Manitoba stopped booking new appointments over the weekend, but health officials announced Monday that those bookings would resume, with room for about 4,000 new appointments this week and next.

Ontario also acknowledged it was working with a supply crunch that would see its next two shipments of Pfizer vaccine reduced by 20 per cent and 80 per cent respectively.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the situation would last until late February or early March when larger shipments begin to arrive.

Ontario announced that a new hospital set to open in Vaughan, Ont. would be used to relieve a capacity crunch because of rising COVID-19 admissions. Elliott and Premier Doug Ford said the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital would add 35 new critical care beds and 150 medical beds to the province’s bed capacity.

Hospital capacity has been a concern in many provinces, with doctors in Ontario and Quebec being told to prepare for the possibility of implementing protocols to decide which patients get access to life-saving care in the case of extreme intensive care unit overcrowding.

Nationally, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are still increasing, according to Canada’s chief public health officer. Dr. Theresa Tam noted that hospitalizations tend to lag one or more weeks behind a surge in cases.

“These impacts affect everyone, as the health-care workforce and health system bear a heavy strain, important elective medical procedures are delayed or postponed, adding to pre-existing backlogs,” she wrote in a statement.

She said an average of 4,705 COVID-19 patients a day were being treated in Canadian hospitals during the last seven days, including an average of 875 in ICUs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021

— With files from Steve Lambert, Shawn Jeffords and Sidhartha Banerjee

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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BC health officials announce 1,330 new COVID-19 cases since Friday | News – Daily Hive

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British Columbia health officials have announced 1,330 new test-positive COVID-19 cases since Friday, bringing the total number of recorded cases in the province to 61,447.

During a press conference on Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there were 584 cases reported from Friday to Saturday, 445 from Saturday to Sunday, and 301 from Sunday to Monday.

Broken down by health region, this equates to 281 new cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 548 new cases in the Fraser Health region, 65 new cases in the Island Health region, 257 new cases in the Interior Health region, 166 new cases in the Northern Health region, and 13 new cases from people who reside outside of Canada, which Henry said is largely attributed to “temporary farm workers arriving in the province for the upcoming season.”

There were also 31 more deaths over the weekend, bringing the death toll to 1,078.

There are currently 4,326 active cases of COVID-19 in the province, and 6,865 people are under active public health monitoring as a result of identified exposure to known cases.

Currently, 343 individuals are hospitalized with COVID-19, 68 of whom are in intensive care. The remaining people with COVID-19 are recovering at home in self-isolation.

Henry said that 54,656 individuals who tested positive have now recovered.

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4 more deaths, 118 cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba as Roussin hints at easing restrictions – CBC.ca

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Manitoba announced 118 cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths on Monday, the 11th consecutive day the province has recorded single-digit deaths.

The latest deaths are connected to current outbreaks, including a man in his 80s at the Rod McGillivary Memorial Care Home in Opaskwayak Cree Nation in the Northern Health Region.

The other three deaths are in the Winnipeg health region — a man in his 60s linked to the outbreak at the Southeast Personal Care Home, a woman in her 70s linked to the outbreak at Concordia Place and a woman in her 80s linked to the outbreak at Health Sciences Centre WRS3.

Of the 118 cases, 46 are in the northern region, which has been the location of many of the new cases in the past week.

The Winnipeg Health Region is nearly equal with 45.

There are 11 cases in the Interlake-Eastern health region, nine in the Southern Health region and seven in the Prairie Mountain Health region.

The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 10.6 per cent provincially and 7.3 per cent in Winnipeg.

(CBC)

“The actions and hard work by Manitobans continues to make a difference. We see our numbers having some way of fluctuating over the days, but we see they’re headed in a good direction,” said Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

“Today’s numbers continue to be encouraging [but] we’re definitely not out of the woods. We certainly still have a long way to go before we can return to normal.”

WATCH | Manitoba ‘many months away’ from return to normal: Dr. Roussin

Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says a variety of containment factors are helping health officials get a better grip on COVID-19 in the province, but don’t expect a return to “anything resembling being normal” for many months. 1:12

New outbreaks have been declared at Golden Door Geriatric Centre and Golden West Centennial Lodge in Winnipeg. Both sites have been moved to the critical (red) level on the province’s pandemic response system.

Meanwhile, outbreaks are now declared over at Heritage Lodge personal care home and Calvary Place Personal Care Home, both in Winnipeg.

Loosening restrictions

There are 3,108 active cases in the province (officials have said that number is inflated due to a data entry backlog) and 289 people are in hospital with COVID-19 — a drop of three from Sunday.

The number in intensive care has dropped to 35 on Monday from 39 on Sunday.

The total number of deaths in Manitoba due to COVID-19 is now 773.

Roussin was asked if the decrease in hospitalizations was enough to begin easing the current code red public health orders.

While the numbers are trending in the right direction, there are still many reasons to remain cautious, he said.

“There is still that demand on our health-care system. It is just now getting back to some of those elective procedures [which had been suspended],” Roussin said.

“So we do have to be cautious, but we do think that we’re in a position to start with some loosening of the restrictions.

“We’ll have some more details on that as the week goes on.”

The existing orders expire Friday night.

Last week, the province launched an online survey to gauge public perspective on the risk of contracting COVID-19 and how comfortable people are with easing some restrictions.

Roussin couldn’t say on Monday how many people have filled it out but “from initial reports, Manitobans were highly engaged.”

He expects more details to be released tomorrow or soon after and said he would give businesses notice as early as possible of any changes that affect them.

Roussin was asked if the new orders might include an increase in faith gatherings but said he didn’t want to speculate on the specifics.

Regardless of what changes are made “we are many months away from a place where we can start thinking about getting back to anything resembling being normal,” he said.

Don’t relax yet: Lamont

Manitoba Liberal Party leader Dougald Lamont said he was a little worried with the tone coming from Monday’s announcement, which suggested things are vastly improving.

It’s not so if you look a little closer, he said.

For instance, the outbreak in the north — specifically Lynn Lake — is concerning because “the hospital is on the verge of being overwhelmed,” he said.

And that is also bad news for Winnipeg because the majority of intensive care units in the province are located in the capital city.

“So we shouldn’t relax or let down our guard at all … because all of those people, ultimately, have to be treated here,” Lamont said, and that could still put strain on the health-care system.

He also expressed “extreme” concern about the low number of daily COVID-19 tests being conducted — just 1,322 on Sunday.

“We really don’t understand it. Months and months ago we were promised 3,000 tests a day and that is not happening,” he said.

Roussin mentioned Monday that Manitoba has not yet detected any cases of either the South African or U.K. coronavirus variants, “but we’re watching quite closely.”

Lamont said that wait-and-see approach has been a problematic one, which left Manitoba scrambling when the second wave hit in the fall.

He wants to see the province step up and start preparing for the variants rather than reacting only once they arrive.

“We need to be vigilant,” he said. “We need to be testing people for the COVID variant at airports and even at truck stops, if possible.

“Over and over again this has been the gang that can’t shoot straight when it comes to planning,” Lamont added, noting the Tories have still not released a vaccination rollout plan to the public.

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