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

The latest:

Ontario’s premier is expected to announce provincewide restrictions later Thursday in the face of rising COVID-19 cases and increasing strain on hospitals, a move that comes a day after Quebec Premier François Legault announced tighter rules in three cities he said are facing a “critical” situation.

Legault announced on Wednesday that people in Quebec City, Gatineau and Lévis should “remain at home unless they absolutely have to go to work.” The new measures, which begin Thursday evening, will last 10 days. Schools in the three communities will close, Legault said, as will non-essential businesses. The curfew in those areas will move up to 8 p.m. ET.

Montreal is not among the communities affected by the stepped-up restrictions, but the premier didn’t rule out further action.

“The third wave is here,” said Legault, who noted during his briefing that hospitalizations are expected to increase in the coming weeks. “I ask you not to gather in homes and please get vaccinated as soon as you can.”

Quebec on Thursday reported 1,271 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 487, with 119 people in the province’s intensive care units (ICUs), according to a provincial dashboard.

Health officials in Ontario reported 2,557 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 23 additional deaths. According to data released by the province to the public, hospitalizations stood at 1,116, with 433 people listed as being in ICUs.

Figures from Critical Care Services Ontario posted on Twitter by the president of the Ontario Hospital Association Thursday morning put the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care at 430. (Provincial officials have previously said the data published to the dashboard doesn’t include cases in which patients are no longer testing positive for COVID-19.)

The updated figures came as Ontario’s science advisers outlined the latest COVID-19 modelling and said stay-at-home orders will control the third wave of COVID-19, which is being driven by rising rates of more transmissible variants of concern. Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the group, said the spread of variants threatens the ability of the province’s health system to deal with regular intensive care admissions and care for all patients.

Meanwhile, more than 150 intensive care unit doctors signed an open letter to Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams on Thursday, calling for new, stricter measures and explaining what they are seeing in intensive care units, including younger patients on ventilators.

“The current measures and framework are not working to contain the spread of this virus,” reads the letter in part.

Ford to speak at 1:30 p.m. ET

Sources have told CBC News Ford is expected to announce provincewide restrictions set to begin Saturday in the face of climbing caseloads and increasing hospitalizations. 

Sources told CBC that schools wouldn’t be immediately affected, but some students, teachers and parents were still questioning what might happen in the days and weeks ahead. 

Williams added that he’s also heard from experts about the importance of keeping classrooms open.

“We’ll be endeavouring to try and keep our schools open,” Williams said. “That’s part of why we have to put more restrictions in place.”

WATCH | Ontario’s ICUs getting to ‘boiling point,’ says critical care doctor:

Critical care specialist Dr. Jamie Spiegelman says Ontario’s intensive care units are under pressure as COVID-19 cases spike. ‘We’re definitely seeing a younger population coming into the ICU,’ he says. 5:45

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:25 p.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs receives the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in Fredericton on Wednesday. (Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press)

As of 1:10 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 985,954 cases of COVID-19, with 49,106 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,991.

In Atlantic Canada, the premier and top medical officer in Nova Scotia were expected to give an update on COVID-19, after health officials reported three new cases of COVID-19.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials reported one new travel-related case of COVID-19 on Thursday.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs got his first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine on Wednesday. The province reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 11 in the Edmundston area in the province’s northwest. There were no new cases reported in Prince Edward Island.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 59 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and two additional deaths.

In neighbouring Saskatchewan, health officials reported 191 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and two additional deaths.

The teachers’ federation, meanwhile, is calling on the province to shift all schools to online learning for a period of two weeks after the upcoming spring break. “It’s a little too late to be proactive,” Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Patrick Maze said, noting that the aim is to keep students and staff “as safe as possible.”

In Alberta, health officials reported 871 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 301, with 63 patients reported to be in intensive care.

WATCH | Alberta doctor says tighter measures needed to deal with variants of concern: 

Alberta needs more strict measures to curb a ‘beast’ of a coronavirus variant that is making young people much sicker, says Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care physician in Edmonton. 6:09

In British Columbia, health officials reported three additional deaths Wednesday and 1,013 daily COVID-19 cases — breaching the 100,000 mark of total cases since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 304, with 80 in intensive care.

Across the North, there was one new case of COVID-19 reported in a Yukon resident (though the individual was out of the province at the time.) There were no new cases reported in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 1:10 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

Medical workers put on personal protective gear before entering the room of a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit of the Andre-Gregoire intercommunal hospital on the outskirts of Paris on Thursday, as the country adopted new measures to fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)

As of early Thursday afternoon, more than 129 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a coronavirus tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.8 million.

The COVAX facility, which is a key part of the effort to get COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income countries, faces a “serious challenge” to meet demand, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Thursday.

“Last week, I made an urgent request to countries, with doses of COVID-19 vaccines that have WHO Emergency Use Listing, to share 10 million doses immediately with COVAX,” he said.

“I requested manufacturers to help ensure that the countries that step up can rapidly donate those doses. This challenge has been heard but we’re yet to receive commitments for these doses. I’m still hopeful that some forward looking and enlightened leaders will step up,” he said.

Tedros’s remarks came after Pfizer said its vaccine continues to show efficacy against COVID-19 up to six months later. The drug company and its German partner, BioNTech, announced updated results Thursday from their ongoing late-stage study of more than 44,000 volunteers.

The companies said the vaccine showed efficacy of 91 per cent against symptomatic disease and was even more effective in preventing severe disease. Of 927 confirmed COVID-19 cases detected through March 13, 77 were among people who received the vaccine and 850 were among people who got dummy shots.

There were no serious safety concerns and the vaccine also appeared to work against a variant first detected in South Africa, the companies said.

This week, the companies said the vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, based on a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers.

In Africa, Nigeria hopes to receive up to 70 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this year through the African Union, its primary health-care chief told Reuters, amid concerns about delayed deliveries of AstraZeneca shots.

Egypt received 854,400 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as part of the global COVAX agreement, the health ministry said.

In Europe, Germany’s president has been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot, a signal of confidence in the vaccine after the country restricted its use in people under 60. The presidential office said in a statement that President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is 65, received his first shot at a hospital in Berlin on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Germany’s independent vaccine expert panel said the AstraZeneca vaccine shouldn’t routinely be given to under-60s because of a rise in reported cases of unusual blood clots in the days after vaccination.

The German government followed the recommendation and said the vaccine would be prioritized for people age 60 and older..

Doctors and nurses in Italy who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus could be reassigned or have their salaries suspended under a new decree approved by the government. Another measure included in the decree rules out criminal liability for medical personnel who administer shots if the vaccinations were done correctly. Some general practitioners in Italy have shied away from giving vaccines, fearing legal exposure if their patients experience adverse reactions.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong will resume administering the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday following a 12-day suspension over packaging defects detected in one batch, officials said.

India opened up its coronavirus inoculation program to people above 45 as infections surge, in a move that will delay vaccine exports from the world’s biggest vaccine maker.

South Korea is reviewing whether to approve rapid coronavirus tests that can be taken at home and produce near-immediate results as another tool to fight the pandemic.

People receive their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre set up for people over 75 years old in Seoul. (Chung Sung-Jun/AFP/Getty Images)

Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said Thursday there’s a need to provide convenient and accessible tests that people can use regularly because the virus is often transmitted by people with no or mild symptoms.

Health officials in China say six more people have become ill with COVID-19 in a southwestern Chinese city on the border with Myanmar. That brings the confirmed total in the Yunnan province city of Ruili over the past two days to 12, including three Myanmar citizens.

In the Middle East, Israel plans to administer the Pfizer vaccine to adolescents upon FDA approval, the health minister said.

In the Americas, Brazil health regulator Anvisa said it approved emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while it rejected a request from the government to import doses of Covaxin, citing a lack of safety data and documentation.

Also Thursday, World Health Organization epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a briefing that number of states in Brazil are in critical condition and hospitals are overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Indeed there is a very serious situation going on in Brazil right now, where we have a number of states in critical condition,” she said, adding that many hospital intensive care units are more than 90 per cent full.

In Chile, health officials said Thursday the country will close its borders for the month of April to slow the spread of the coronavirus and stop the influx of its variants, as cases continue to soar despite one of the world’s fastest vaccination rates.

A police officer checks people’s transit permissions amid the coronavirus pandemic outside the Central Market where shoppers wait to buy fish for Holy Week in Santiago, Chile, on Friday. (Esteban Felix/The Associated Press)

Chile has already inoculated more than 35 per cent of its population, according to a Reuters tally, but cases have nonetheless spiked in recent weeks following the Southern Hemisphere summer holidays.

On Thursday, the country reported 7,830 cases of the virus, its highest single-day tally since the pandemic began in March 2020. The soaring caseload has prompted health authorities to place much of the country under lockdown to ease pressure on urgent care wards.

Officials said they would close the South American country’s border beginning on April 5 to both Chileans and foreign residents of the country, with exceptions only in emergencies. No foreign tourists will be allowed into the country.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

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