Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday

The latest:

The UN health agency says coronavirus cases globally rose for a fifth straight week, with counts in Africa and the Americas now ticking up after holding mostly steady for weeks.

Deaths climbed in every region except Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday the number of new deaths rose five per cent to more than 64,000 over the last week — a second straight weekly increase after falling or staying nearly flat for weeks.

Europe and the Americas still account for about four-fifths of all cases and deaths. The U.S. leads the world with more than 30 million coronavirus cases and nearly 551,000 deaths.

The news from WHO comes ahead of a scheduled a televised address from President Emmanuel Macron of France, a possible harbinger of tighter restrictions to combat surging coronavirus hospitalizations.

Previous countrywide lockdowns in France in March and October of 2020 were announced by Macron in televised speeches. His office said Wednesday that Macron will address the country at 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET), without offering any details about what he might say.

Ahead of his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting Wednesday with ministers and aides, Macron was under intense pressure to close schools and further restrict people’s movements to ease growing pressure on hospitals.

Strain on hospitals in France

The total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France surged past 5,000 on Tuesday, the first time in 11 months that the figure has been that high.

Short of a full lockdown, Macron is running out of alternatives to make a major dent in the renewed surge of infections that has led to growing questions about his government’s virus strategies. With presidential elections scheduled for 2022, Macron is having to weigh both political and health considerations.

An overnight countrywide curfew has been in place since January. In Paris and other regions where the virus is spreading rapidly, residents already also have extra restrictions on movement and non-essential stores are closed.

Schoolchildren clean their hands at the private primary school Jeanne D’Arc in Saint-Maur-des-Fosses, near Paris, on Tuesday. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

School closures were among options being considered Wednesday. They’d previously been described as a last resort by the government.

“What we needed earlier was a strict lockdown and huge vaccination drive, but it’s still not too late,” Gilbert Deray, a senior clinician at the Pitie-Salpeterie hospital in Paris, told Europe 1 radio.

According to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University, France has seen more than 4.6 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and more than 95,400 deaths.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 10:25 a.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Uncertainty surrounds Ontario’s plan to tackle 3rd COVID-19 wave:

Ontario’s third wave of COVID-19 is hitting younger and middle-aged people the hardest. Case rates are still rising, ICUs are already full and it’s not clear what the province plans to do about it. 3:35

As of 12:40 p.m. ET, Canada had reported 979,963 cases of COVID-19, with 47,139 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,950.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 2,333 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths. Data published to a provincial dashboard put the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at 1,111, with 396 in intensive care units. 

Data from Critical Care Services Ontario, however, put the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in the province’s intensive care units at 421. The data posted online to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard is lower than the CCSO data because officials stop including hospitalized patients in that count when they are no longer testing positive for COVID-19.

When asked about the ICU numbers in Ontario on Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said to expect an announcement on Thursday.

“I’m very, very concerned to see the cases go up,” he said. “I’m very concerned to see the ICU capacity.” The premier’s comments come a day after he said he wouldn’t hesitate to lock things down again if needed. 

In Quebec, Premier François Legault is expected to hold a news conference at 5 p.m. ET.  The planned update comes a day after the premier suggested some regions in the province could soon see additional restrictions.

Health officials in Quebec reported 1,025 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 485, a dashboard said, with 120 people in intensive care units.

Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut on Wednesday. Health officials in Yukon and the Northwest Territories had not yet provided updated figures for the day.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

“Let’s focus our attention on controlling what we can, protecting one another, and keeping COVID at bay,” said Dr. Janice Fitizgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, at a briefing on the virus and ongoing vaccine rollout efforts. “Hold fast, Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Health officials in New BrunswickNova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had not yet reported updated figures for the day.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 77 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and no additional deaths. 

WATCH | Worries grow about Regina’s COVID-19 outbreak spreading throughout Saskatchewan:

Regina’s ICUs are operating above capacity as younger, sicker COVID-19 patients flood in, amid a surge in cases there. And now there are concerns the problem could spread provincewide. 2:04

Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 164 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one additional death. The province said 91 of these infections are from in and around Regina, which is battling a spread of more infectious variants. There are 160 people in hospital in the province, with 22 of the patients in intensive care.

Premier Scott Moe on Tuesday urged people to be “very diligent” in following public health orders and called on all eligible people to make an appointment to get their vaccine.

“I believe that we will be able to get our case numbers under control in the few communities where they’re increasing  without further … restrictions, but we all need to do our part,” Moe said. 

In Alberta, health officials reported 576 new cases and four additional deaths on Tuesday. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 301, with 58 people listed as being in intensive care.

British Columbia reported 840 new daily cases on Tuesday but no additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 312, with 78 in intensive care. 

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 12:35 p.m. ET.

What’s happening around the world

A worker prepares oxygen cylinders at a COVID-19 quarantine centre in Aden, Yemen. (Fawaz Salman/Reuters)

As of early Wednesday afternoon more than 128.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.8 million.

Japan is the latest nation calling for further investigation into the origins of COVID-19, saying the report released this week at a WHO briefing was based on work that faced delays and lacked access to essential virus samples.

“In order to prevent future pandemics, it is indispensable to carry out prompt, independent and experts-led investigations that are free of surveillance,” chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters. “We are concerned that the latest investigation faced delays and the lack of access to virus samples.”

The report was released Tuesday after experts travelled to Wuhan, China, the city where illnesses from the coronavirus were first detected in late 2019.

WATCH | How exactly did COVID-19 begin?:

Front Burner23:53How, exactly did COVID-19 begin?

The release of a WHO report on the origins of COVID-19 is drawing both international curiosity and concern over China’s transparency. Nature senior reporter Amy Maxmen explains the investigation’s findings as well as criticisms over its access and independence. 23:53

China has touted its co-operation with WHO and warned that attempts to politicize the matter would cost lives. The U.S. and other countries say the WHO report lacked crucial information, access and transparency and further study was warranted.

Kato called for additional investigation and analysis and said Japan will encourage WHO to consider additional investigation inside China.

“We will further co-operate with other countries in carrying out additional studies that are still necessary,” Kato said.

The report said the virus most likely came from bats and spread to an unidentified mammal before being transmitted to people.

In the Middle East, Yemen has received a first batch of coronavirus vaccines from the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative.The shipment of 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine has landed in the port city of Aden on Wednesday, in co-ordination with WHO and UNICEF, the two UN agencies said in a statement.

The doses have come amid a “dramatic influx” of critically ill COVID-19 patients in Yemen as a second wave of the pandemic overwhelms the country’s depleted medical facilities, according to Doctors Without Borders.

The shipment, produced by the Serum Institute in India, is the first batch of 1.9 million doses that Yemen will initially receive throughout 2021, it said. Yemen has reported more than 3,800 infectious cases and 810 confirmed deaths.

In the Americas, Ecuador’s health system is under severe strain from a spike in COVID-19 and some hospitals in the capital Quito are working above capacity to treat patients, doctors said on Tuesday.

In Africa, South Africa on Tuesday more than doubled the number of people who can gather indoors for Easter religious services because COVID-19 transmission remains relatively low.

In Europe, Poland reported its highest number of deaths related to COVID-19 so far this year on Wednesday, as concern mounts that the health system is cracking under the strain of the pandemic’s third wave.

A hospital paramedic takes off his personal protective equipment after checking a COVID-19 patient under quarantine last week in Bochnia, Poland. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Spain has decided to extend AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccination to essential workers over 65 years old to protect a small group of people who have not yet retired, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

In the Asia-Pacific region, China carried out about 3.7 million vaccinations on March 30, bringing the total number administered to 114.69 million, according to data released by the National Health Commission on Tuesday.

The southwestern Chinese city of Ruili that borders Myanmar ordered a one-week home quarantine for residents of the city’s urban area, and mass COVID-19 testing, after reporting six new locally transmitted cases.

-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at noon ET

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