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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on March 4

The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to begin debating President Joe Biden's $1.9-trillion US coronavirus aid bill, setting up what is likely to be a contentious, days-long debate over the merits of the sweeping package.

U.S. Senate votes to begin debate on Biden's $1.9-trillion US coronavirus aid bill

U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday after the Senate voted to begin debating President Joe Biden's $1.9-trillion US coronavirus aid bill, with Harris placing the tie-breaking vote. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The latest:

  • Alberta will expand its vaccine rollout to include people under age 75 starting March 15.
  • EU, Italy stop AstraZeneca vaccine exports to Australia in the first use of an export control system.
  • Vaccine panel's call for longer dosage intervals is based on 'real-world' evidence, health official says.
  • U.S. Senate votes to begin debate on Biden COVID-19 relief bill.
  • Ontario college cautions doctor after complaints about COVID-19 tweets.
  • COVID-19 testing rolls out at more land border crossings.
  • Premiers cite issues in long-term care exposed by pandemic, long waits for cancer patients in pitch for more federal health funding.
  • Have a question about the coronavirus pandemic? You can reach us at COVID@cbc.ca

The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to begin debating President Joe Biden's $1.9-trillion US coronavirus aid bill, setting up what is likely to be a contentious, days-long debate over the merits of the sweeping package.

The party-line vote of 51-50, with Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris breaking the tie, illustrated that Democrats who narrowly control the chamber can expect little, if any, Republican support.

A vote on final passage could come over the weekend. Republicans are expected to use procedural tricks to drag out the process for as long as possible.

With no votes to spare, Democrats tweaked the bill to ensure that all 50 of their members would support it. They said they would steer more aid to smaller U.S. states and add money for infrastructure projects, among other changes.

"The time is now to move forward with big, bold, strong relief for the American people," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

The Senate push comes as new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have declined from peaks seen earlier this year, but remain above 50,000 a day — even after the government has distributed more than 100 million doses of vaccine, putting shots into more than 50 million arms, according to federal data.

Meanwhile, the White House said President Joe Biden was expressing his "frustration and exasperation" when he said on Wednesday that decisions to end the required wearing of masks — such as those by the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi — amounted to "Neanderthal thinking."

Visitors wearing face masks walk past a sign requiring masks at a restaurant along the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday. Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas is lifting a mask mandate and lifting business capacity limits next week. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

Press secretary Jen Psaki said with more than 500,000 U.S. lives lost and after a year in which all Americans have sacrificed, "it's imperative that people listen across the country, whether they live in a red state or a blue state, to the guidance of public health experts."

Psaki noted Biden has asked Americans to diligently wear masks for his first 100 days in office while vaccinations ramp up.

"Sixty more days," she said. "That's what he's asking and he's certainly hopeful that businesses and people across the country will continue to do that."

- From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 4 p.m. ET


What's happening across Canada

As of 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 878,396 cases of COVID-19, with 29,903 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,151.

Some provinces are weighing revised immunization rollouts a day after a federal vaccine advisory committee recommended stretching out the time between COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended that the maximum interval between the first and second doses of all three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada should increase to four months due to limited supplies.

On Thursday, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, backed up the advice, saying it is based on real-world data that shows doing so would lead to more people being protected from COVID-19 in a shorter time period.

WATCH | The science behind delaying the 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccines:

The science behind delaying the 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccines

The National

2 months ago
2:04
Federal government scientists have put their support behind delayed second doses of COVID-19 vaccines — which several provinces were already doing — and ongoing research shows some of the benefits of the adapted strategy. 2:04

In Ontario, the chief medical officer of health has praised the new recommendation.

Dr. David Williams said health officials are now in talks about how an adjusted timeline could affect Ontario's reopening framework, adding that the move might allow some congregate settings to be "more flexible and more allowable." 

The province reported 994 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 additional deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 649, with 281 people in intensive care units.

Meanwhile, the regulatory body for doctors in Ontario has issued three separate cautions to a pediatrician following a series of complaints about her tweets that challenged accepted public health advice and regulations around the pandemic.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. The province, which had eight COVID-19 patients in hospital, reported a total of 121 active cases.

Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. Premier Iain Rankin said the province is lifting restrictions on the Halifax area, less than a week after they were put in place, as COVID-19 cases remain low.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick reported five new cases, and Prince Edward Island reported one new case.

Both Nova Scotia and P.E.I. have said that with second shots delayed and more vaccine coming, everyone in their province who wants the vaccine should be able to get their first shot by the end of June.

WATCH | How businesses and schools use rapid COVID-19 tests:

How businesses and schools use rapid COVID-19 tests

The National

2 months ago
7:41
Many businesses and schools across Canada are utilizing rapid COVID-19 tests and onsite testing technology to help catch asymptomatic cases and prevent spread of the virus. 7:41

In Quebec, health officials reported 707 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 20 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 626, a COVID-19 dashboard said, with 115 people in intensive care units.

The update came a day after officials announced next steps around easing restrictions, saying the province will be moving more regions into the lower "orange" pandemic-alert level, including Quebec City and the Eastern Townships, starting on March 8.

Premier François Legault said the greater Montreal area will remain in the highest "red" level, because of fear of novel coronavirus variants.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 51 new cases on Thursday and two new deaths: a woman in her 20s and a woman in her 90s linked to the outbreak at Park Manor Care Home in Winnipeg.

In neighbouring Saskatchewan, health officials reported 169 new cases and two new deaths on Thursday. 

The province said Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipments had arrived in Prince Albert and North Battleford, with clinics scheduled to open on Thursday.

Alberta, meanwhile, reported 331 new cases and nine more deaths on Thursday. 

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the province will expand its COVID-19 vaccine rollout to include people under age 75 starting on March 15. He also said that all adults in the province will receive their first dose by the end of June, if shipments arrived as scheduled.

British Columbia on Thursday reported 564 new cases and four more deaths. Of the new cases, 46 were identified as variants, bringing B.C.'s total to 246.

During a briefing, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the COVID-19 variants of concern are highly contagious and that the province is having difficulty identifying the chains of transmission for about 25 per cent of them.

In the North, Nunavut reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the number of active cases in the territory to 14. All of the active cases in Nunavut are in the community of Arviat, Premier Joe Savikataaq said in a tweet. 

Health officials in Yukon and the Northwest Territories reported no new cases.

- From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET


What's happening around the world

A French Urgent Medical Aid Service member walks past stretchers in an Air Austral company's plane in Sainte-Marie on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion on Thursday before evacuating four COVID-19 patients to Paris. (Richard Bouhet/AFP/Getty Images)

As of Thursday evening, more than 115.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, with more than 65.3 million listed on the Johns Hopkins University tracking site as recovered. The global death toll stood at more than 2.5 million.

In the Americas, Brazil's second-biggest city of Rio de Janeiro will be the latest to adopt new COVID-related restrictions on Friday, including a night curfew, in a bid to slow a deadly second wave that is ravaging the South American country.

The city of 6.7 million people will impose a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and order restaurants to close at 5 p.m., while certain businesses, such as clubs, will be shut altogether, according to information published in the city's official bulletin on Thursday.

While COVID-19 deaths and infections are falling globally, that is not the case in Brazil, where a record 1,910 people died from the virus on Wednesday. In response, various states and cities have adopted new restrictions on commerce in recent days, including the Federal District, home of capital Brasilia, and Sao Paulo state, Brazil's most populous.

The new restrictions in Rio are due to last through March 11.

Caretaker Paul Bascombe marks safety signs for physical distancing at The Prince of Wales School on Thursday in Dorchester, England. England's schools will reopen to pupils from March 8. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

In Europe, a shipment of over a quarter million AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines destined for Australia has been blocked from leaving the European Union, in the first use of an export control system instituted by the bloc to make sure big pharmaceutical companies would respect their contracts.

The move underscores a growing frustration within the 27-nation bloc about the slow rollout of its vaccine drive and the shortfall of promised vaccine deliveries, especially by Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca.

The ban came at the behest of Italy, whose objections centred both on the general shortage of supplies in the EU and on "the delays in the supply of vaccines by AstraZeneca to the EU and Italy," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Italy said it also intervened because of the size of the shipment, more than 250,700 doses, that would go to Australia, which it did not consider a vulnerable nation.

Meanwhile, the EU's medicines regulator said on Thursday it has started a real-time review of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine developed by Russia's Gamaleya Institute for possible approval in the region.

Around the bloc, Germany's health minister says the country's independent vaccine committee has formally approved giving the AstraZeneca shot to people age 65 and over.

In Poland, the government is extending the time between administering the two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 42 days, with officials saying they want to increase the number of people getting vaccinated.

In Africa, Kenya received over a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week, while Rwanda said it was the first in Africa to secure shots from Pfizer.

Egypt, meanwhile, expanded its vaccination rollout to include the elderly and people with chronic diseases after several weeks of vaccinating medical staff.

An Egyptian medical worker checks people's temperatures on the first day of vaccination against COVID-19 in Cairo on Thursday. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Middle East, Iran remained the hardest-hit country in the region, with more than 1.6 million cases COVID-19 and more than 60,000 reported deaths.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Sri Lanka's drug regulatory body has approved the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as the second available for use in the Indian Ocean island nation.

South Korea's central bank says the country's economy shrank for the first time in 22 years in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic destroyed service industry jobs and depressed consumer spending.

Preliminary data released by the Bank of Korea on Thursday showed that the country's gross domestic product last year contracted one per cent from 2019. It marked the first annual contraction for the country's economy since 1998, when it was in the midst of a crippling financial crisis.

The economy would have been even worse if not for the country's technology exports, which saw increased demand driven by personal computers and servers as the pandemic forced millions around the world to work at home.

- From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7 p.m. ET

With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press and CBC News

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