Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday
Premier Doug Ford says Rod Phillips has resigned as Ontario's finance minister after vacation abroad
- Ontario reports record-high 3,328 cases of COVID-19, Quebec reports 2,819 new cases.
- Ontario's finance minister resigns after returning from Caribbean vacation.
- New COVID-19 testing rules for air travellers kick in Jan. 7.
- Alberta municipal affairs minister took Hawaii vacation, sources say.
- Tam cautions Canadians on their alcohol intake in year-end message.
- Health Canada waiting on more data before making a decision on AstraZeneca vaccine.
- China gives conditional approval to homegrown Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine.
- Have a question about COVID-19? Send your questions to COVID@cbc.ca.
Ontario and Quebec reported record-high COVID-19 case numbers again on Thursday, with Ontario becoming the first province in the country to report more than 3,000 cases in a single day.
Ontario reported 3,328 new infections and 56 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,530.
Hospitalizations stood at 1,235, with 337 COVID-19 patients in Ontario's intensive care units (ICUs), according to data released by the province.
Ontario is reporting 3,328 cases of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVID19</a> and nearly 63,900 tests completed. Locally, there are 888 new cases in Toronto, 431 in Peel, 418 in York Region, 257 in Windsor-Essex County and 194 in Ottawa.—@celliottability
Quebec, meanwhile, reported 2,819 new cases and 62 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 1,175 with 165 people in the province's ICUs, according to a provincial dashboard. The province's Health Ministry also announced it will use all of its doses of the Pfizer–BioNtech vaccine immediately instead of keeping half in reserve for the required second dose.
According to new modelling from the provincial government, hospitals in Greater Montreal are getting perilously full and could run out of capacity for new COVID-19 patients entirely in as little as two or three weeks.
The latest report from the Institute national d'excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) indicates a "more than 50 per cent risk" that existing hospital bed capacity for COVID-19 patients in Quebec's largest metropolitan area will run out over the three-week forecast horizon.
As of Thursday evening, Canada's COVID-19 case count stood at 580,195, with 74,777 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,605.
The updates from health officials in the two hard-hit provinces came as Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips resigned after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation. Premier Doug Ford made the announcement in a statement Thursday afternoon.
Phillips, who was in Saint Barthélemy, popularly known as St. Barts, while the province is under strict lockdown measures, said he hoped to regain people's confidence after facing significant criticism over his decision to travel despite calls to avoid non-essential trips.
"Obviously, I made a significant error in judgment, and I will be accountable for that," Phillips said from Pearson International Airport in Toronto earlier Thursday morning, before his resignation was announced.
"I do not make any excuses for the fact that I travelled when we shouldn't have travelled."
WATCH | Rod Phillips addresses trip at Pearson airport:
A statement from the premier's office said that Ford had accepted Phillips's resignation.
"At a time when the people of Ontario have sacrificed so much, today's resignation is a demonstration that our government takes seriously our obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard," Ford's statement said.
Ford said Wednesday that he didn't know about his finance minister's travel plans in advance but did learn about it after a phone call with Phillips.
"At that time, I should have said, 'Get your backside back into Ontario,' and I didn't do that," the premier said Wednesday as he took questions about the trip and what he knew about it.
Elsewhere, the Northwest Territories began its vaccination campaign on Thursday. Residents and staff of the Jimmy Erasmus Seniors Home in Behchokǫ̀ and AVENS Manor in Yellowknife were among the first to get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
"I am pleased with how the first day of our vaccination rollout has gone and excited about the months ahead as we work to vaccinate the rest of our eligible population," N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green said in a government news release.
In Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an estimated 1,200 new cases of COVID-19 in a "preliminary" update Thursday morning on Twitter. The province's chief medical officer of health said another update would be shared on Jan. 1.
Alberta also became the first province to officially say the NHL can play games in its arenas for the upcoming season. In a statement to The Canadian Press on Thursday, the provincial government said it approved Edmonton and Calgary for competition on Dec. 25 following the review of protocols outlined in the league's return-to-play plan, along with some additional enhancements.
That confirmation is the first from any of the five provinces with NHL teams since deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated on Dec. 24 that the league believes it can play games in all seven Canadian markets.
Here's a look at some of what's happening with COVID-19 across Canada:
- B.C. announces 683 new cases, 8 new deaths in final update of 2020.
- Saskatchewan announces 190 new cases, one new death.
- Manitoba reports 187 new COVID-19 cases, six deaths.
- N.B. announces one new death, three new cases.
- N.L. marks end of 2020 with no new cases of COVID-19.
New rules requiring air travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before entering Canada will kick in on Jan. 7, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Thursday.
The new requirement, announced Wednesday, covers all air passengers five years of age or older. Under the new rule, travellers must receive a negative result on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test — the standard nose swab test for detecting active COVID-19 infections — within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Canada.
WATCH | Will COVID-19 tests for passengers arriving in Canada help reduce coronavirus spread?
Documentation of a negative test result must be presented to the airline prior to boarding a flight to Canada, Garneau said in a media statement.
The minister said the timing of the new policy will give foreign and domestic airlines "adequate" time to comply with the new requirements.
What's happening in the U.S.
David Perdue, one of two Republican U.S. senators facing a runoff election in Georgia next week, is quarantining after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, his campaign said in a statement on Thursday.
Perdue was notified of the contact on Thursday and has tested negative, the statement said.
Earlier, health officials said California has surpassed 25,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic. The news comes as the most populated state in the U.S. faces a surge of COVID-19 infections that has hospitals stretched to capacity and forced nurses and doctors to treat more patients than usual.
The state's Department of Public Health said hospitals in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, which together account for a large majority of the state's 40 million residents, have no capacity left in intensive care units to treat COVID-19 patients.
Hospitals are housing patients in hallways, conference rooms, a cafeteria and gift shops. Makeshift hospitals are being set up in tents, arenas and schools.
WATCH | U.S. COVID-19 vaccine delivery slower than planned:
California was the third state to reach 25,000 deaths, behind New York, which has nearly 38,000 deaths, and Texas, which has more than 27,000, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has seen more than 19.8 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 343,000 deaths
California reported its first case of COVID-19 in late January.
Most of the state is under newly extended restrictions that have closed or reduced capacity of businesses, and people are being urged to stay home as much as possible to try to slow the spread of infections.
What's happening around the world
As of Thursday evening, more than 83.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 46.9 million considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
The World Health Organization said it has cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon get access to the shot already available in Europe and North America.
Every country that has a drug regulatory agency will have to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems usually rely on WHO to vet the shots.
The global body said late Thursday that the decision to issue its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine "opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine."
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the required freezers and reliable electricity supply may not be available.
"This requirement makes the vaccine more challenging to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible," WHO said, adding that it was "working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible."
In Africa, instead of ushering in 2021 at packed events with dance music and fireworks, many South Africans are responding to President Cyril Ramaphosa's call to light a candle to honour those who have died in the pandemic and the health workers who are on the front line of battling the disease.
"This year has been very tough for most people, and it hit too close to home for me when I lost my aunt," said Lieschen Burger, who will be spending a quiet night at home with her family. She said they will pray that 2021 will be a better, healthy year for all.
“The entire eyes of the world were on this cruise ship, watching this outbreak unfold, watching more and more people getting sick.” Today, looking back on a year of COVID-19 with <a href="https://twitter.com/adamsmiller?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@adamsmiller</a>: <a href="https://t.co/xoEvhEtq66">https://t.co/xoEvhEtq66</a> <a href="https://t.co/IsbyXkdjo8">pic.twitter.com/IsbyXkdjo8</a>—@FrontBurnerCBC
South Africa's current resurgence of the coronavirus is fuelled by a new, more infectious variant. The country announced a record high of 17,710 new cases and 465 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total cumulative number of cases to more than 1,039,000, including 28,033 deaths.
With hospitals reaching capacity, the government this week reintroduced strict measures, including bans on the sale of alcohol and public gatherings.
Urging all South Africans to battle the virus, Ramaphosa called on the country to celebrate New Year's Eve in a different way.
"Let us each light a candle in memory of those who have lost their lives, in tribute to those on the front line who are working tirelessly to protect us from harm, in appreciation of the great sacrifices that have been made this past year, and in the confidence that the year ahead will bring health, peace and hope to our people," an emotional Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the country that he called a "family chat."
The president said he would light a candle in Cape Town at midnight.
Annual New Year's Eve celebrations have been cancelled, including Johannesburg's annual raucous dance party that attracts thousands. Instead, the mayor of South Africa's largest city will light a candle on the landmark Nelson Mandela Bridge.
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has shattered its single-day record of new coronavirus infections for the second consecutive day, with 1,730 cases recorded ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations expected to draw tens of thousands of revellers to Dubai from around the world.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo is seeing a record surge in coronavirus cases as the governor of the Japanese capital implored people to stay home.
"The coronavirus knows no year end or New Year's holidays," Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters.
She asked people to skip countdown ceremonies and expressed concern people were out shopping in crowded stores.
"Please spend a quiet New Year's with your family and stay home," she said, switching to English for "stay home."
In Europe, Italy's interior minister has ordered 70,000 law enforcement officers to patrol New Year's Eve to ensure that no illegal gatherings take place. Minister Luciana Lamorgese says this year's celebrations will be "more sober" than usual because of restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The country with the highest death toll in Europe, topping 73,000, is under a modified lockdown, permitting just one outing a day for up to two people to visit friends or family in the same region.
The Czech Republic headed for the New Year with a record surge in coronavirus infections. The Health Ministry said the daily increase in new infections hit a record for the second straight day on Wednesday, with 16,939 confirmed cases. It's over 500 more than the previous record set on Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered millions more people to live under the strictest COVID-19 restrictions from Thursday to counter a new variant of the virus that is spreading at a "sheer pace" across the country.
In the Americas, the COVID-19 vaccine developed jointly by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was approved for use in El Salvador.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said officials were investigating a case of suspected abuse of power by a family to obtain shots of the COVID-19 vaccine.
With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters