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Today's coronavirus news: Experts believe COVID vaccine will work on new U.K. strain; Ontario vaccine clinics reopen today; Canada's Prairie premiers score lowest on virus handling, poll finds – 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.

7:50 a.m.: Will COVID-19 vaccines work on the new coronavirus variant?

Experts believe so, but they’re working to confirm that.

A coronavirus variant in the United Kingdom has caused alarm because of the possibility that it might spread more easily. But even if that turns out to be true, experts say the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out will likely still work on the variant.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said data coming from Britain indicates the vaccines still will block the virus. But the U.S. also will do tests to be sure.

Viruses often undergo small changes as they reproduce and move through a population. In fact, the slight modifications are how scientists track the spread of a virus from one place to another.

But if a virus mutates significantly enough, one worry is that current vaccines might no longer offer as much protection. And although that’s a possibility to watch for over time with the coronavirus, experts say they don’t believe it will be the case with the variant in the U.K.

“My expectation is, this will not be a problem,” said Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for the U.S. government’s COVID-19 vaccine push.

7:30 a.m.: As COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Canada, many are asking themselves whether they can trust them or not. Since the first news of this COVID-19 there has been such an incredible amount of information, disinformation and barefaced lies that it is almost impossible to work out what is going on.

Science has changed so rapidly that treatments first thought to be effective have now become discounted. In addition, the clash of politics and science has fostered tons of misinformation.

Yes, there are a lot of knowns, some unknowns and many myths about this vaccine.

As a group of medical professionals, doctors, health care workers, here is our summary of what we do know — not what we think we know about the Pfizer-BioNTech’s Vaccine — the first one authorized for general use in Canada, the UK, the USA and increasingly in other countries.

Read the full explainer from Dr. Mel Brecknell, Dr. Zain Chagla and Semir Bulle here.

7:15 a.m.: A new poll suggests the premiers of Canada’s three Prairie provinces are lagging counterparts from the rest of the country when it comes to how local residents feel they are managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The poll from Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found 30 per cent of respondents in Alberta were satisfied with the job Premier Jason Kenney was doing when it comes to COVID-19 – the lowest level of satisfaction for Canada’s 10 provincial leaders.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, whose province has also been battered by new infections during the second wave of COVID-19, fared slightly better than Kenney with 31 per cent of provincial respondents approving of his management of the pandemic.

The only other premier with less than 50 per cent satisfaction was Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe at 39 per cent. Moe’s government has also been criticized for not responding sooner to a steady increase in infections in the province.

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.

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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.

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 midmonth.

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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Biden’s vaccine pledge ups pressure on rich countries to give more

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The United States on Thursday raised the pressure on other Group of Seven leaders to share their vaccine hoards to bring an end to the pandemic by pledging to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the world’s poorest countries.

The largest ever vaccine donation by a single country will cost the United States $3.5 billion but Washington expects no quid pro quo or favours for the gift, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

U.S. President Joe Biden‘s move, on the eve of a summit of the world’s richest democracies, is likely to prompt other leaders to stump up more vaccines, though even vast numbers of vaccines would still not be enough to inoculate all of the world’s poor.

G7 leaders want to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 to try to halt the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 3.9 million people and devastated the global economy.

A senior Biden administration official described the gesture as a “major step forward that will supercharge the global effort” with the aim of “bringing hope to every corner of the world.” “We really want to underscore that this is fundamentally about a singular objective of saving lives,” the official said, adding that Washington was not seeking favours in exchange for the doses.

Vaccination efforts so far are heavily correlated with wealth: the United States, Europe, Israel and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. A total of 2.2 billion people have been vaccinated so far out of a world population of nearly 8 billion, based on Johns Hopkins University data.

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have agreed to supply the U.S. with the vaccines, delivering 200 million doses in 2021 and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022.

The shots, which will be produced at Pfizer’s U.S. sites, will be supplied at a not-for-profit price.

“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

Anti-poverty campaign group Oxfam called for more to be done to increase global production of vaccines.

“Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as they will help more than 250 million people, but that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead.

“We need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints,” he said in a statement.

Another issue, especially in some poor countries, is the infrastructure for transporting the vaccines which often have to be stored at very cold temperatures.

Biden has also backed calls for a waiver of some vaccine intellectual property rights but there is no international consensus yet on how to proceed.

The new vaccine donations come on top of 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of June. There is also $2 billion in funding earmarked for the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the White House said.

GAVI and the WHO welcomed the initiative.

Washington is also taking steps to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, including through its Quad initiative with Japan, India and Australia.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in St. Ives, England, Andrea Shalal in Washington and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Keith Weir;Editing by Leslie Adler, David Evans, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Giles Elgood and Jane Merriman)

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Vaccines donated by the United States and China

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Both the United States and China have pledged large donations of COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world. Washington has promised 80 million doses, three-quarters of which will be delivered via the international vaccine initiative COVAX, in what has been seen as an effort to counter China’s widening vaccine diplomacy. It began deliveries last week.

China had shipped vaccines to 66 countries in the form of aid, according to state news agency Xinhua. Beijing has not disclosed an overall figure for its donations but Reuters calculations based on publicly available data show at least 16.57 million doses have been delivered. China has also pledged to supply 10 million doses to COVAX.

VACCINES DONATED BY U.S. (plan for the first 25 mln):

Regional partners and priority recipients

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Including Canada, Mexico, 1 mln to S.Korea in June

South Korea, West Bank and

Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo,

Haiti, Georgia, Egypt,

Jordan, India, Iraq, Yemen,

United Nations

TOTAL 6 mln 1 mln

Allocations through COVAX

South and Central America

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Brazil, Argentina, Colombia,

Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador,

Paraguay, Bolivia,

Guatemala, El Salvador,

Honduras, Panama, Haiti,

Dominican Republic and other

Caribbean Community

(CARICOM) countries

TOTAL 6 mln

Asia

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

India, Nepal, Bangladesh,

Pakistan, Sri Lanka,

Afghanistan, Maldives,

Malaysia, Philippines,

Vietnam, Indonesia,

Thailand, Laos, Papua New

Guinea, Taiwan, and the

Pacific Islands

TOTAL 7 mln

Africa

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

To be selected in

coordination with the

African Union

TOTAL 5 mln

VACCINES DONATED BY CHINA (source – Reuters calculations and official data):

Asia Pacific

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Afghanistan 400,000

Bangladesh Second batch of First batch of 500,000 delivered

600,000 on May 12

Brunei 52,000 in Feb

Cambodia 1.7 mln as of April 28

Kyrgyzstan 150,000 in March

Laos 300,000 in Feb

800,000 in late March

300,000 in late April

Maldives 200,000 in early March

Mongolia 300,000 in late February

Myanmar 500,000 in early May

Nepal 800,000 in late March

1 mln in early June

Pakistan 500,000 in early Feb

250,000 in Feb

500,000 in March

Philippines 600,000 in late Feb

400,000 in late March

Sri Lanka 600,000 at end March

500,000 in late May

Thailand 500,000 in May

500,000 in June

Timor-Leste 100,000 100,000 in early June

TOTAL 11.052 million

Africa

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Angola 200,000 in late March

Algeria 200,000 200,000 in Feb

Botswana 200,000 in April

Cameroon 200,000 in April

Congo 100,000 100,000 in March

Egypt 600,000 in March

Ethiopia 300,000 in late March

Equatorial Guinea 100,000 in Feb

Guinea 200,000 in early March

Mozambique 200,000 in late Feb

Namibia 100,000 by early April

Niger 400,000 in late March

Sierra Leone 240,000 by late May

Togo 200,000 in April

Uganda 300,000

Zimbabwe 200,000 in Feb

200,000 in March

100,000 in May

TOTAL 3.74 million

South America

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Bolivia 100,000 in late Feb

100,000 in late March

Venezuela 500,000 in early March

TOTAL 700,000

Europe & Middle East

COUNTRY/TERRITORY PLEDGED DELIVERED

Belarus 100,000 in Feb

300,000 in May

Georgia 100,000 at end April

Iran 250,000 at end February

Iraq 50,000 in early March

Montenegro 30,000 in early March

North Macedonia 100,000 in May

Syria 150,000 in late April

TOTAL 1.08 million

 

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Cooper Inveen in Dakar; Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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Coronavirus Worldwide right now

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Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus now:

Australia’s Melbourne to exit lockdown

Australia’s second largest city Melbourne will exit a hard lockdown as planned on Thursday night, Victoria state authorities said, although some restrictions on travel and gatherings would likely remain for another week.

After two weeks in a strict lockdown that forced people to remain at home except for essential business, Melbourne’s five million residents will get more freedom to step outside from 11:59 p.m. local time (1359 GMT) on Thursday.

However, people must stay within 25 km (15 miles) of their homes, officials said, in an effort to stop transmission during an upcoming long weekend. There will also be a total ban on house gatherings and masks will be mandatory indoors.

Deliveries of Thai-made AstraZeneca vaccines delayed

Malaysia and Taiwan are expecting deliveries of AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in Thailand to be delayed, officials said, the latest countries to report a holdup with orders from the Thai plant.

The delay comes amid concerns over AstraZeneca’s distribution plans in Southeast Asia, which depends on 200 million doses made by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by Thailand’s king that is making vaccines for the first time.

Any questions about Siam Bioscience meeting production targets are sensitive because King Maha Vajiralongkorn is its sole owner. Insulting Thailand’s monarchy is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Indonesia aims to speed up vaccinations

President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday he hoped Indonesia’s vaccination rollout will hit one million shots a day by July, as authorities opened up inoculations to anyone aged over 18 in Jakarta to contain increased transmission in the capital.

Health officials in the world’s fourth most populous country, which aims to vaccinate 181.5 million people by next year, are trying to speed up the rollout after facing some supply issues.

The president said he wanted vaccinations to hit a targeted 700,000 doses a day this month and then rise again.

Singapore finds Delta most prevalent among variants

Singapore has found the Delta variant of the coronavirus to be the most prevalent among local cases of variants of concern (VOCs), according to health ministry data, highlighting its level of infectiousness.

There were 449 local cases with VOCs as of May 31, of which 428 were the Delta variant first detected in India and nine of the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

Singapore reported its 34th death due to COVID-19, taking its toll from the pandemic beyond the 33 casualties recorded during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak.

U.S. forming expert groups on lifting travel restrictions

The Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to determine how best to safely restart travel after 15 months of pandemic restrictions, a White House official said on Tuesday.

Another U.S. official said the administration will not move quickly to lift orders that bar people from much of the world from entering the United States because of the time it will take for the groups to do their work.

The groups will be led by the White House COVID Response Team and the National Security Council and include the Centers for Disease Control and other U.S. agencies.

 

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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