Alberta is ratcheting up the fight in two COVID-19 hot spots by expanding age eligibility for vaccines and directing delivery of more doses.
On Wednesday, there were 20,938 active cases in the province, the second-highest total since the pandemic began. (The highest was in mid-December: 21,649.) The province announced 1,839 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday. There were 643 people in hospital, 145 of them receiving intensive care.
Premier Jason Kenney said the new measures will help address concerns in Banff and Lake Louise, as well as in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes the oilsands hub city of Fort McMurray.
Kenney said the province will explore further health restrictions as necessary.
Banff-Lake Louise and the Wood Buffalo area have been the hardest-hit areas in a province where COVID-19 cases have soared in recent weeks, propelled by more contagious variants that now make up two-thirds of all active infections.
Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott said the vaccine changes are a strong first step to corralling the virus, which has led to more than 1,200 cases locally, all but a handful in Fort McMurray.
The surge has also pushed the area’s one hospital to capacity, so more beds are being added to the intensive care ward.
“We’re not out of the woods yet by any means, but I consider this to be substantial progress,” said Scott.
Chief Allan Adam of the area’s Athabasca Tribal Council said Kenney failed to address key questions about more restrictions, including curfews or stay-at-home orders, to bring the caseload down.
“They’re not putting restrictions on anything. It’s business as normal for them. They say if people were to get vaccinated, that will divert the curve, and that’s a poor excuse.”
-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
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As of early Thursday morning, Canada had reported 1,202,743 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 83,354 considered active. A CBC tally of deaths stood at 24,117.
In Atlantic Canada, health officials reported 89 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 75 of the cases in Nova Scotia. The province is currently in a lockdown, imposed in a bid to stamp out the spread of COVID-19 and variants of concern.
In New Brunswick, health officials reported eight new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with half of them in the Fredericton area.
In Quebec, health officials reported 1,094 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 additional deaths on Wednesday. COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 643, with 161 people in intensive care.
WATCH | Ontario announces paid sick leave program — but some don’t think it offers enough:
Meanwhile, in Ontario, the provincial government bowed to months of pressure and announced a paid sick day program that will pay for up to three sick days per person, with a maximum of $200 per day. The program, which is set to expire in September, falls far short of what doctors and opposition politicians had called for.
Ontario health officials on Wednesday reported 3,480 new cases of COVID-19 and 24 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 2,281, with 877 people in ICU “due to COVID-related illness.”
British Columbia, meanwhile, reported 841 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in British Columbia has ticked up to 515, breaking a previous record set last week. Among those hospitalized, 171 people were in intensive care.
Across the North, Nunavut reported six new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, while two cases were reported at a work site in the Northwest Territories. There were no new cases reported in the Yukon.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:55 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 149.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tool from Johns Hopkins University used to track COVID-19 cases. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.1 million.
In the Americas, Brazil is on the verge this week of registering 400,000 coronavirus deaths, after the health ministry reported 3,163 new COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 398,185.
In Europe, Britain will buy 60 million more doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine in a deal that more than doubles the country’s supply of the shot ahead of a booster program later this year.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines is extending a month-long lockdown by two weeks as the country’s worst coronavirus infection spike starts to ease but remains alarming.
President Rodrigo Duterte said in televised remarks Thursday night that the second-most restrictive lockdown level will now run through May 14 in metropolitan Manila and four nearby provinces, a region of more than 25 million people. Mayors, however, cut a nine-hour night curfew in metropolitan Manila to six hours to help battered businesses.
Confirmed coronavirus infections in the Philippines soared past one million on Monday, with deaths now at more than 17,000, the second highest in Southeast Asia.
In Africa, a top public health official said the continent is “watching with total disbelief” what is happening in India as it struggles with a devastating resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong warned that the African continent, which has roughly the same population as India and fragile health-care systems, “must be very, very prepared” because it could see the same scenario now unfolding in the South Asian country.
“We need to regroup urgently,” Nkengasong told reporters Thursday. “We do not have enough health-care workers. We do not have enough oxygen,” he said.
Africa’s vaccine situation is also closely linked to India, which is the source of the AstraZeneca vaccines distributed by the global COVAX project to get doses to low- and middle-income countries.
In the Middle East, Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is not likely to reach deals with COVID vaccine makers to co-produce the vaccines, although discussions are still ongoing, chief executive Kare Schultz told Reuters.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:25 a.m. ET