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Trudeau unveils $82B COVID-19 emergency response package for Canadians, businesses

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a massive $82-billion aid package to help Canadians and businesses cope with the global COVID-19 pandemic, including income supports, wage subsidies and tax deferrals.

The package includes $27 billion in direct supports and another $55 billion to help business liquidity through tax deferrals.

Combined, the package represents more than three per cent of Canada’s GDP. Trudeau said the deep spending and delayed federal revenue will not drive the country into recession, insisting “prudent” decisions made over the last five years have put Canada on a strong economic footing to weather the crisis.

“We will be able to make sure our economy gets back up to speed very quickly,” he said.

Parliament could be recalled as early as next week to pass legislation to bring in the fiscal measures.

The supports aim to help Canadians pay for rent and groceries, to help businesses continue to meet payroll and pay bills, and to stabilize the economy. Supports could start flowing in weeks, Trudeau said.

“No matter who you are or what you do, this is a time where you should be focused on your health, and that of your neighbours, not whether you’re going to lose your job, not whether you’re going to run out of money for things like groceries and medication,” he said.

The emergency aid plan includes:

  • A temporary boost to Canada Child Benefit payments, delivering about $2 billion in extra support.
  • A new Emergency Care Benefit of up to $900 biweekly, up to 15 weeks, to provide income support to workers, including the self-employed, who have to stay home and don’t qualify for paid sick leave or employment insurance. The measure could disburse up to $10 billion.
  • A new Emergency Support Benefit to provide up to $5 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment.
  • A six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments.
  • Doubling the homeless care program.
  • Extending the tax filing deadline to June 1.
  • Allowing taxpayers to defer until after Aug. 31 tax payments that are due after today and before September.
  • $305 million for a new Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation communities.

Other measures include a GST credit for low-income Canadians and special support for the homeless and shelters helping people escaping gender-based violence.

Trudeau said there is a “real” desire among opposition political parties to help Canadians, and he is confident that the measures can pass quickly in Parliament.

House leaders from all parties held a conference call today. Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez said his counterparts from the other parties expressed a desire to work collaboratively and in a responsible way to pass legislation to help Canadians as quickly as possible.

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the economy will recover

PM Justin Trudeau announced a $82 billion aid package to help individuals and businesses during the COVID-19 crisis and assured Canadians the economy will recover quickly.  1:06

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his party will cooperate with the government because it supports measures that put money directly into the hands of Canadians. He said Conservatives would press the government to make sure that nobody who needs support falls through the cracks.

“We believe that in this time frame, when people are going through hardship in real time, that Parliament must react very quickly,” Scheer told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.

However, Scheer criticized the finance minister for running budget deficits in previous years, which he said limits the government’s fiscal capacity during an economic downturn.

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said he’s encouraged by some of the Liberal proposals, but is concerned about the length of time it will take for people to access the funds.

“There’s people that we know right now are not able to work, don’t have the ability to earn any income, and have bills to pay,” said Singh. “People need help right away.”

Singh said New Democrats are willing to fast-track any legislation that will ensure money flows to people who need it most.

Watch: Scheer reacts to the federal government’s COVID-19 economic aid package

 

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau says the government will do “whatever it takes” to respond to the global pandemic. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

 

Virus will ‘be around for a while’

The number of confirmed and presumptive cases in Canada has risen above 700, with nine deaths — seven in B.C, one in Ontario and one in Quebec.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said today the country has seen a “sharp rise” in the number of cases and that indicates community spread.

She said Canadians should not invite others into their homes at this time and should work from home wherever possible.

Tam also warned that the virus will be around for a while and will not be eradicated from the world within months. People need to prepare for another “wave” that could come after an initial containment period, she said.

“You’re going to have to prepare as though this virus is going to have more than one wave. I think that’s the only prudent thing to do,” she said.

Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and the Northwest Territories have all declared either a state of emergency or public health emergencies in order to unlock resources and government powers to ensure access to critical supplies.

Late Wednesday, Saskatchewan also declared a state of emergency.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says the federal government has reduced capacity to act during the COVID-19 pandemic because of previous budget deficits. 1:36

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the impact of the pandemic is “profound” but assured Canadians the government will do “whatever it takes” to help them through the crisis.

He described today’s package as the “first phase” of planned measures.

“Usually, my job is to ensure we maintain our fiscal track, but right now as minister of finance, my only job is to make sure that Canadians can keep food in the fridge, that they can keep a roof over their heads, that they can afford the medicine that they need,” he said.

“We’ve entered this challenge in a very strong fiscal position. Canada’s balance sheet is the envy of the world and it means we have the fiscal firepower to respond. We’re now prepared to use it.”

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says there are now 598 cases in Canada and eight related deaths. She says indicates a “sharp rise” in the number of cases and indicates community spread. 2:15

More information about applying for EI sickness benefits is available on the government’s website. Applications for the new benefits will open in April and will require Canadians to attest that they meet the eligibility requirements, and to re-attest every two weeks.

When the new benefits are available, Canadians can apply through the CRA My Account secure portal, through a My Service Canada Account or by calling a toll-free number the government plans to introduce, which will be equipped with an automated application process.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy, sending stock prices diving and forcing businesses to shut their doors as governments institute lockdowns and other social distancing measures to slow its spread.

Today, Canada and the United States reached an unprecedented deal to close their shared border to non-essential travel, as both countries try to restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

Trudeau announced Monday the government was closing Canada’s border to all travellers except for Canadian citizens, permanent residents and Americans, with exceptions for flight crew members, diplomats and some immediate family members of Canadians.

Canadian businesses of all sizes are feeling the pain from shutdowns, cancellations and public fear as the number of confirmed cases rises each day.

Trudeau said Tuesday that Parliament could be recalled to pass emergency economic measures.

The government is also considering invoking the Emergencies Act, which would grant it extraordinary powers to restrict movement and regulate and distribute critical supplies during the pandemic.

Today, Trudeau said said invoking the act would be a “significant step, not one that we feel we need today, but not one that we are closing the door to in the future, if necessary.”

Today’s announcement is in addition to a $1 billion COVID-19 response package and supports for business already announced by the government.

Last week, Trudeau pledged $1 billion for increased public health measures. The package includes $275 million for additional research, such as vaccine development, and $200 million for federal medical supplies, supports for Indigenous communities and education efforts.

Another $500 million is going to support provincial and territorial governments.

The federal government has also waived the one-week waiting period for employment insurance claims related to COVID-19.

Morneau also announced last Friday the establishment of a $10 billion credit fund to lend money to businesses to help them continue operations.

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'We took our eye off the ball': How Canada lost its vaccine production capacity – CTV News

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TORONTO —
In the race to develop and produce a COVID-19 vaccine, Canada is on the sidelines despite its once notable status as a global source for life-saving injections.

Canada lost that standing long ago, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained this week, which means even if the country had developed its own novel coronavirus vaccine, there would be no means to produce it on the scale required.

“We used to have [production capacity] decades ago but we no longer have it,” Trudeau said Tuesday in Ottawa.

How did it get to this point? Canadian administrations simply took their “eye off the ball,” said Earl Brown, an infectious disease expert and a former member of the H1N1 vaccine task group in Canada. After that pandemic, a review found that vaccine production capacity was “right at the top” of the list of problems, he said. It wasn’t always that way.

“We had great vaccine producers in Canada — world leaders essentially — 50 years ago,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. There was Connaught Laboratories in Toronto, which was known for producing insulin to treat diabetes and inoculants for diphtheria and polio, and Institut Armand Frappier in Montreal that produced vaccines, including one for tuberculosis, he noted.

“The problem was they had a poor business model,” said Brown. “These were vaccine companies spun off from universities, so there was indirect funding and they had a model of not making so much profit.”

So they were eventually sold, Montreal’s Frappier lab to British multinational GlaxoSmithKline and Connaught, through a series of mergers, to French multinational Sanofi Pasteur​ after Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government’s program of privatization​. The labs now have a “tighter production line and not so much capacity,” said Brown.

The inability to mount a domestic production campaign means that the Canadian government must rely on purchase agreements with top U.S. and European pharmaceutical brands, including Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, to produce and provide the shots to Canadians once the vaccines are approved by Health Canada. In the absence of a domestic candidate, Ottawa has ordered as many as 414 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates from seven different companies.

‘A MAJOR GLITCH’

There are some promising vaccine candidates in development across Canada, including Quebec’s Medicago and Saskatchewan’s VIDO-InterVac, but the companies lack the means to produce them here. What would that mean for rollout should those candidates be successful? 

“That’s a major glitch,” said Brown. “You’re going to have to get a partner, somebody who’s got the ability to do that and then you have to get them onside, tuned up, send them your vaccine, get it produced and bottled. Not the best way to do it.”

For those Canadian companies to mount production campaigns on their own will take time — and a lot of it, they have said. VIDO-InterVac said it has plans to build a facility in one year, but that it would take another still to get it in operating shape. “That’s not the time frame you like,” said Brown.

In the meantime, Canadians will have to rely on speedier countries with approved COVID-19 vaccines to provide doses, but Canadians won’t be prioritized ahead of their own people. “Countries like the United States, Germany and the U.K. do have domestic pharmaceutical facilities, which is why they’re obviously going to prioritize helping their citizens first,” Trudeau said on Tuesday in Ottawa.

To help Canadians first, the federal government should set up a Crown corporation to produce vaccines, suggests Joel Lexchin, a professor emeritus with York University’s School of Health Policy and Management. 

“It’s one thing if we give up the ability to domestically make something like laundry detergent. We can all live without laundry detergent. But when it comes to medications and vaccines, those are critical for the health of Canadians and we should be able to make them ourselves,” he told CTV National News. “Not only will the ability to domestically produce them ensure that Canadians get the care that they need, but we can also fulfill our human rights obligations by exporting them at low cost to low- and middle-income countries.”

‘GROSS INCOMPETENCE’

The reliance on other countries and private companies is upsetting critics of Trudeau, who said Tuesday that his administration has begun funding domestic vaccine production capacity because “we never want to be caught short again.” 

“This is gross incompetence that’s going to cost Canadians their lives and their jobs,” said Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner on Tuesday from Parliament Hill.

But criticism toward one government’s inaction may often easily be directed at another with hindsight, countered Brown on Your Morning.

“When you have the problem, you look back and say ‘We should have done something, shouldn’t we?’” he said.

With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello and CTV National News correspondents Glen McGregor and Avis Favaro 

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'We took our eye off the ball': How Canada lost its vaccine production capacity – CTV News

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TORONTO —
In the race to develop and produce a COVID-19 vaccine, Canada is on the sidelines despite its once notable status as a global source for life-saving injections.

Canada lost that standing long ago, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained this week, which means even if the country had developed its own novel coronavirus vaccine, there would be no means to produce it on the scale required.

“We used to have [production capacity] decades ago but we no longer have it,” Trudeau said Tuesday in Ottawa.

How did it get to this point? Canadian administrations simply took their “eye off the ball,” said Earl Brown, an infectious disease expert and a former member of the H1N1 vaccine task group in Canada. After that pandemic, a review found that vaccine production capacity was “right at the top” of the list of problems, he said. It wasn’t always that way.

“We had great vaccine producers in Canada — world leaders essentially — 50 years ago,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. There was Connaught Laboratories in Toronto, which was known for producing insulin to treat diabetes and inoculants for diphtheria and polio, and Institut Armand Frappier in Montreal that produced vaccines, including one for tuberculosis, he noted.

“The problem was they had a poor business model,” said Brown. “These were vaccine companies spun off from universities, so there was indirect funding and they had a model of not making so much profit.”

So they were eventually sold, Montreal’s Frappier lab to British multinational GlaxoSmithKline and Connaught, through a series of mergers, to French multinational Sanofi Pasteur​ after Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government’s program of privatization​. The labs now have a “tighter production line and not so much capacity,” said Brown.

The inability to mount a domestic production campaign means that the Canadian government must rely on purchase agreements with top U.S. and European pharmaceutical brands, including Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, to produce and provide the shots to Canadians once the vaccines are approved by Health Canada. In the absence of a domestic candidate, Ottawa has ordered as many as 414 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates from seven different companies.

‘A MAJOR GLITCH’

There are some promising vaccine candidates in development across Canada, including Quebec’s Medicago and Saskatchewan’s VIDO-InterVac, but the companies lack the means to produce them here. What would that mean for rollout should those candidates be successful? 

“That’s a major glitch,” said Brown. “You’re going to have to get a partner, somebody who’s got the ability to do that and then you have to get them onside, tuned up, send them your vaccine, get it produced and bottled. Not the best way to do it.”

For those Canadian companies to mount production campaigns on their own will take time — and a lot of it, they have said. VIDO-InterVac said it has plans to build a facility in one year, but that it would take another still to get it in operating shape. “That’s not the time frame you like,” said Brown.

In the meantime, Canadians will have to rely on speedier countries with approved COVID-19 vaccines to provide doses, but Canadians won’t be prioritized ahead of their own people. “Countries like the United States, Germany and the U.K. do have domestic pharmaceutical facilities, which is why they’re obviously going to prioritize helping their citizens first,” Trudeau said on Tuesday in Ottawa.

To help Canadians first, the federal government should set up a Crown corporation to produce vaccines, suggests Joel Lexchin, a professor emeritus with York University’s School of Health Policy and Management. 

“It’s one thing if we give up the ability to domestically make something like laundry detergent. We can all live without laundry detergent. But when it comes to medications and vaccines, those are critical for the health of Canadians and we should be able to make them ourselves,” he told CTV National News. “Not only will the ability to domestically produce them ensure that Canadians get the care that they need, but we can also fulfill our human rights obligations by exporting them at low cost to low- and middle-income countries.”

‘GROSS INCOMPETENCE’

The reliance on other countries and private companies is upsetting critics of Trudeau, who said Tuesday that his administration has begun funding domestic vaccine production capacity because “we never want to be caught short again.” 

“This is gross incompetence that’s going to cost Canadians their lives and their jobs,” said Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner on Tuesday from Parliament Hill.

But criticism toward one government’s inaction may often easily be directed at another with hindsight, countered Brown on Your Morning.

“When you have the problem, you look back and say ‘We should have done something, shouldn’t we?’” he said.

With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello and CTV National News correspondents Glen McGregor and Avis Favaro 

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

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The latest:

British Columbia reported a record high COVID-19 case number on Tuesday as neighbouring Alberta declared a public health emergency and put forward targeted measures aimed at slowing transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Alberta — which reported 1,115 new cases and 16 additional deaths on Tuesday — is temporarily banning indoor private social gatherings and moving all students in Grade 7 and above to at-home learning.

Premier Jason Kenney opted to keep businesses, including retail and clothing stores, open with 25 per cent capacity. Casinos will be allowed to run their slot machines at 25 per cent capacity and churches will still be allowed to hold services with one-third their normal audience. Restaurants can still offer in-person dining.

Kenney, who has not ruled out the possibility of further restrictions in the weeks ahead, said Tuesday’s measures were needed to keep the province’s health-care system from being “overwhelmed” and to protect the vulnerable.

“They are also needed to protect Albertans from the health, social and economic damage that a crushing lockdown would inflict.”

But some in the province were quick to criticize Tuesday’s orders, saying they didn’t go far enough. Mike Parker, president of a major union of health-care workers, called the measures “inadequate” and took issue with Kenney’s leadership, saying the premier “continues to put business interests ahead of the well-being of all Albertans.”

As of Tuesday, Alberta had 13,349 active cases of COVID-19 and 348 people in hospital, with 66 in intensive care.

WATCH | Alberta response not aggressive enough to curb COVID-19, says respirologist:

Recent news on COVID-19 vaccines is very encouraging, particularly with regards to protecting the elderly, says respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta.    7:46

British Columbia, meanwhile, reported 941 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday — a new daily high in the province, which also announced a new public health measure.

Health officials in B.C. had already introduced a mask requirement for indoor public spaces and new rules around social gatherings, but on Tuesday they also moved to temporarily ban indoor group fitness activities.

“We need to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our province and that needs to happen now,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement. “That is why we have paused all gatherings, events and indoor group fitness activities.”

The vast majority of the new cases in B.C. were in the Fraser Health region, which includes major cities like Surrey and Burnaby. As of Tuesday there were 7,732 active cases of COVID-19 in the province and 284 people in hospital, with 61 in intensive care.


What’s happening across Canada

As of 11:20 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 344,928, with 57,298 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 11,653.

Saskatchewan reported 175 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 2,927. Premier Scott Moe and the province’s chief medical health officer are expected to announce new restrictions later Wednesday.

Ontario is expected to provide guidance Wednesday on how people should handle the upcoming holiday season amid the coronavirus pandemic. Toronto and Peel Region are currently under the grey, or lockdown, level in the province’s tiered COVID-19 alert system, with those restrictions to stay in place at least until the week of Christmas.

WATCH | Toronto pub offering free meals to those in need:

The Dizzy Gastro Sports Pub in Toronto’s west end is offering free meals to people who are struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Owner Chris Murie expects more people to be looking for help as government benefits wind down. 6:03

The tough new rules have sparked outcry from some small business owners, who argue they unfairly clamp down on small retailers while big-box stores that sell essentials like groceries are still allowed to sell “non-essential” products.

Ontario reported 1,373 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 445 in Toronto and 415 in Peel Region. Health officials reported 35 additional deaths, bringing the cumulative death toll in the province to 3,554.

The number of people with COVID-19 in the province’s hospitals stood at 523, with 159 in intensive care, according to a provincial dashboard.

Quebec, which has seen the most cases of any province to date, recently provided its own guidance around Christmas.

Premier François Legault has said that people in that province can attend up to two social gatherings (with a maximum of 10 people in attendance at each event) from Dec. 24 to 27. People who plan on attending these gatherings are also asked to quarantine a week before and a week after.

Quebec reported 1,100 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Hospitalizations stood at 655, with 93 in intensive care, according to a provincial dashboard.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, meanwhile, urged people to be “very, very observant” of the province’s public health guidelines over the holidays. He waded into the broader debate about how to handle the holiday season this week, calling Quebec’s plan “dangerous.”

Manitoba reported 476 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 12 additional deaths, bringing the province’s death toll to 248.

In Atlantic Canada, where a travel bubble that tied the provinces together has been temporarily popped, Nova Scotia‘s premier is once again urging people to “stay the blazes home.”

After announcing 37 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday — the most the province has seen since late April — health officials put forward new regulations that will see a range of closures in the Halifax area beginning later this week. Restaurant dining rooms will close, as will public spaces like libraries, casinos and recreation centres.

“If you haven’t woken up to the second wave, this is your wake-up call,” Premier Stephen McNeil said.

WATCH | N.S. cracks down on Halifax to stop COVID-19 surge:

Nova Scotia is responding to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases with new restrictions focused on the Halifax area and a massive push for rapid testing regardless of symptoms. The goal is to find every case and preserve the relative safety the province has enjoyed for months. 1:57

New Brunswick reported five more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported two new cases. There were no new cases in Prince Edward Island.

In the North, Nunavut reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases in the territory to 153. There were no new confirmed cases reported in Yukon or the Northwest Territories on Tuesday.


What’s happening around the world

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

As of early Wednesday morning, there were more than 59.9 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 38.3 million of those listed as resolved or recovered, according to a coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.4 million.

In the Americas, U.S. president-elect Joe Biden will give a speech on Wednesday highlighting the challenges facing Americans as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches and the country faces a surge in coronavirus infections.

Although White House officials are pushing Georgia to do more to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday that the responsibility rests with individual Georgians, as he implored them to take precautions over Thanksgiving.

In Minnesota, a surge of COVID-19 cases throughout the state is affecting staffing levels at many nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. That’s forcing the state to send the National Guard to help out in some homes, while the administration is also asking state employees to consider volunteering in facilities with critical staff shortages.

The Star Tribune reported Wednesday that Minnesota Department of Health data shows 90 per cent of the state’s nursing homes and 58 per cent of assisted-living facilities have active outbreaks.

Robert Lugo, left, helps manage Zoom calls as Santa Larry, right, speaks with a virtual visitor at the Santa Experience in the Mall of America on Tuesday in Bloomington, Minn. The owners had initially set up a socially distanced set, featuring a cabin with a plexiglass window, but moved completely online after new COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Tuesday that 47 long-term care facilities are in “a crisis staffing situation” and are receiving active support from the state, including help from federal health nurses.

Gov. Tim Walz’s administration is also taking the unusual step of emailing all state employees and asking them to consider volunteering for two-week stints in long-term care facilities, particularly in greater Minnesota.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore, which once had the highest COVID-19 rate in Southeast Asia, said it was nearly virus-free and Australia’s most-populous state eased restrictions, while Tokyo will urge bars and restaurants to operate with shortened hours.

WATCH | Some Canadians in Australia favour an aggressive approach to COVID-19:

Australia became one of the few countries in the world, and one with many similarities to Canada, to beat back a second wave of COVID-19 and bring its case count near zero. 5:13

South Korea said 60 new army recruits at a boot camp have tested positive for the coronavirus, the military’s largest cluster infection. The Defence Ministry said in a statement the recruits had been taking basic training at an army unit in Yeoncheon, a town near the tense border with North Korea, at the start of their 18 months of mandatory military service.

It said more tests are underway to determine whether 860 other recruits and troops at the Yeoncheon unit have been infected with the virus too.

In Europe, Germany reported a record 410 COVID-19 deaths over 24 hours just before federal state leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel were due to discuss an extension of pandemic-related restrictions into December and for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

France will start easing curbs this weekend so people will be able to spend the holiday with their families, and said a vaccine could start being administered by the year-end if approved by regulators.

An employee works to prepare orders for Christmas at JoueClub toys shop in Paris as non-essential stores prepare to reopen after weeks of lockdown to combat a resurgence of the coronavirus in France. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday that his government was considering limiting Christmas celebrations to six people in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Health experts and scientists have advised that six is a sufficiently low number to help stop the virus, Sanchez said, adding that the final details of the restrictions will be negotiated with regional authorities.

In the Middle East, Iran registered on Wednesday a daily record high of 13,843 new cases, the health ministry said, pushing the national tally to 894,385 in the Middle East’s worst-hit country.

The World Health Organization said the coronavirus pandemic has “slowed down” in the past week although death rates continued to rise, with more than 67,000 new deaths reported.

The UN health agency said in its latest epidemiological update Wednesday that even though there was a “downward trend” in the number of cases in Europe, the region still has the biggest proportion of new cases and deaths globally. WHO noted that Africa reported the highest increase in new cases and deaths, driven by South Africa, Algeria and Kenya.

In the past week, WHO said, the number of new cases reported in Europe dropped by about six per cent after a 10 per cent decline the previous week, suggesting that lockdowns across the continent are effectively slowing transmission. Still, the region accounts for about half of new global deaths.

In Asia, WHO noted that Japan reported the largest number of daily cases since the beginning of the outbreak, with more than 2,000 reported every day for five consecutive days, a 41 per cent increase from the previous week. Myanmar reported a 74 per cent jump in cases last week, with more than 11,000 new cases and a 36 per cent increase in deaths, at 188.

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