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

The U.S. Senate, in the throes of a marathon debate over the shape of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion US coronavirus aid plan, voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to exclude upper-income Americans from a new round of direct payments to help stimulate the economy.

'Vote-a-rama' on U.S. COVID-19 rescue plan could stretch into the night

Travellers prepare to check-in at the Miami International Airport. It's mandatory to wear a mask on federal property and public transportation in the United States, following an executive order signed by President Joe Biden last week. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The latest:

The U.S. Senate, in the throes of a marathon debate over the shape of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion US coronavirus aid plan, voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to exclude upper-income Americans from a new round of direct payments to help stimulate the economy.

By a vote of 99-1, the Senate approved an amendment recommending that high-income earners not qualify for a new round of government cheques that could amount to $1,400 US for individuals. Republican Sen. Rand Paul was the lone dissenter.

Details of the income cap would still have to be worked out in subsequent legislation.

"The decent compassionate thing is for us to target the relief to our neighbours who are struggling every day to get by" during the coronavirus pandemic," said Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, the proposal's author

Earlier direct payments provided $1,200 US for eligible individuals and $2,400 for most married couples, with an additional $500 per eligible child. The payments began phasing out at $75,000 US for individuals and $150,000 for married couples.

The Senate was expected to work late into the night in a "vote-a-rama" session aimed at overriding Republican opposition to Biden's sweeping COVID-19 relief plan, a top priority of his young administration.

U.S. President Joe Biden signs executive orders inside the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on Feb 2, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Senate Democrats need to pass a budget resolution to unlock a legislative tool called reconciliation, which would allow them to approve Biden's proposal in the narrowly divided chamber with a simple majority. The House of Representatives approved the budget measure on Wednesday.

Most legislation must get at least 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to pass. But the chamber is divided 50-50 and Republicans oppose the Democratic president's proposal. Reconciliation would allow the Senate's 48 Democrats and two independents to approve the relief package with a tie-breaking vote from Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Senate Democrats and the Biden administration have left the door open to Republican participation but have said they want comprehensive legislation to move quickly to address a pandemic that has killed over 450,000 Americans and left millions more jobless.

Biden told lawmakers in private comments Wednesday that he's "not married" to an absolute number for the overall package but wants them to "go big" on pandemic relief and "restore the soul of the country."

"Look, we got a lot of people hurting in our country today," Biden said on a private call with House Democrats. "We need to act. We need to act fast."

But the Democrats' march to add more assistance to last year's $4 trillion US in coronavirus relief could be complicated by the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, which is set to begin next week and could distract from the legislation.

Once adopted, the budget resolution would provide spending instructions to House and Senate committees charged with crafting COVID-19 relief legislation.

The reconciliation measure is not a piece of legislation and does not require the president's signature to take effect. If the Senate passes it without amendments, it will take effect immediately. If any amendments pass, the package would return to the House, which would need to vote on it again.

In a show of bipartisanship, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, this week pledged that consideration of the budget resolution would be open to amendments from both parties in a process known informally as a "vote-a-rama," which could run to late Thursday night or early Friday.

"We invite participation from both sides of the aisle," Schumer on Thursday. "But I urge members not to lose sight of what this legislation will mean for the American people."

Johnson & Johnson asked U.S. regulators on Thursday to clear the world's first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Republicans expect to offer up to 20 amendments on issues ranging from energy and federal land use to executive orders.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson asked U.S. regulators Thursday to clear the world's first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, an easier-to-use option that could boost scarce supplies.

The drugmaker's application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) follows its Jan. 29 report in which it said the vaccine had a 66 per cent rate of preventing infections in its large global trial.

It didn't appear quite as strong as two-dose competitors made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — though that finding may be more perception than reality, given differences in how each was tested.

But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is asking its independent advisers to publicly debate all the data behind the single-dose shot — just like its competitors were put under the microscope — before it decides whether to greenlight a third vaccine option in the U.S.

Dr. Peter Marks, FDA's vaccine chief, has cautioned against making comparisons before the evidence is all in.

"With so much need to get this pandemic under control, I think we can't ignore any tool in the tool chest," he told the American Medical Association last week. "We will have to do our best to try to make sure that we find the populations that benefit the most from each of these vaccines and deploy them in a very thoughtful manner."

-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 7:10 p.m. ET


What's happening across Canada

As of 8:15 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 793,735 cases of COVID-19 — with 47,715 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 20,513.

Canada doesn't know how many Moderna doses will arrive in the coming weeks, and the company hasn't said why it has reduced shipments, according to the military commander leading vaccine logistics for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin said 180,000 Moderna doses arrived Thursday morning, but the government has no "visibility" on how many more shots will be delivered this month and next. Even so, Canada still expects two million Moderna doses to be delivered by the end of March to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promised vaccination targets, he said.

Separately, the federal government extended a ban on cruise ships, with more than 100 people, coming to Canada until Feb. 28, 2022.

Health officials in British Columbia on Thursday announced new safety measures for schools. Wearing masks is now mandatory for both staff and students inside high schools and middle schools. Wearing masks indoors is still optional for the province's elementary students.

Alberta reported 13 COVID-19 deaths and 582 new cases Thursday. The province has now confirmed a total of 68 cases of people infected with variants of the coronavirus that were first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Manitoba is considering loosening pandemic restrictions as of Feb. 13 as its COVID-19 case count continues heading in the right direction. The province is asking for public feedback on whether to allow restaurants, tattoo parlours, gyms, nail salons and libraries to reopen with limited capacity, among other considerations. Manitoba reported 110 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths Thursday. The province's five-day test positivity rate is at 6.7 per cent, the lowest it's been since Oct. 23.

WATCH | Manitoba may take steps to reopen:

Manitoba proposes cautious reopening as COVID-19 cases fall

Manitoba

3 months ago
3:06
Manitoba is proposing to loosen restrictions on many businesses and services as case numbers fall, but the province is looking for public input before it decides on changes that could come into effect as early as next week. 3:06

Ontario reported 1,563 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 88 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 1,101, with 323 COVID-19 patients in the province's intensive care units.

Students in Ontario regions hit hard by COVID-19 will begin returning to physical classrooms next week as the province said new infections were gradually declining and additional measures had been put in place to ensure schools would be safe.

WATCH | COVID-19: Addressing vaccine skepticism:

COVID-19: Tackling vaccine hesitancy in diverse communities

The National

3 months ago
4:52
An infectious disease physician and the chair of the City of Toronto's Black Community COVID-19 Response Plan discuss tackling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the Black community and other diverse groups. 4:52

The province is now mulling whether to cancel March break — a move educators and some parents say could lead to mass burnout. Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he's waiting to hear what Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, thinks before making a final decision.

In Quebec, health officials on Thursday reported 1,093 new cases of COVID-19 and 42 additional deaths. Hospitalizations decreased again to 1,070, with 175 COVID-19 patients reported to be in the province's intensive care units.

Further east, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and P.E.I. each reported one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday. New Brunswick reported 16 new cases. The province's chief medical health officer urged New Brunswickers to keep their Super Bowl Sunday celebrations low key.

"No one wants their Super Bowl party to turn into a super-spreader event," Dr. Jennifer Russell said.

Nunavut reported two new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, in the community of Arivat, where there are now 14 active cases.

Here's a look at what's happening across the country:

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 5:40 p.m. ET


What's happening around the world

As of Thursday evening, more than 104.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 58 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.2 million.

A top international Red Cross organization has announced a 100 million Swiss franc (almost $142 million Cdn) plan to help support the immunization of 500 million people worldwide against COVID-19 amid concerns about vast inequalities in the rollout of coronavirus vaccines between rich and poor countries.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, an umbrella organization of national groups, said the world's 50 poorest countries have received only 0.1 per cent of the total vaccine doses that have been administered worldwide so far — with 70 per cent administered in the 50 richest countries.

"Without equal distribution, even those who are vaccinated will not be safe," federation secretary-general Jagan Chapagain said in a statement.

Lucy Y. Powderly, right, receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from Sgt. Julia Benson of the Illinois Army National Guard at a vaccination centre established at the Triton College in River Grove, Ill., on Wednesday. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Americas, Brazil registered 56,873 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 1,232 deaths, according to data released by the nation's Health Ministry.

The South American country has registered more than 9.3 million confirmed cases and 228,795 deaths from the virus. It was the third day in a row Brazil reported over 1,200 coronavirus deaths. 

In Africa, some 16 countries have shown interest in securing COVID-19 vaccines under an African Union (AU) initiative and the aim is to deliver allocations in the next three weeks, the head of a continental disease control body said on Thursday.

As wealthier nations push ahead with mass immunization, Africa is seeking to immunize 60 per cent of its 1.3 billion people in the next three years. Only a handful of African nations have begun giving doses.

The AU bloc initially secured 270 million doses from manufacturers for member states, then late last month said it would receive another 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

John Nkengasong, director of the AU's Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the 16 countries had so far placed requests for the vaccines under the bloc's African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), which started operation in mid-January.

Professor Yacouba Togola, right, who heads the pulmonology department and serves as the head of the COVID-19 unit at Point G Hospital, speaks with colleagues in Bamako, Mali. (Annie Risemberg/AFP/Getty Images)

"With respect to AVATT, 16 countries have now expressed their interest for a total 114 million doses of vaccines," Nkengasong told a virtual news conference.

"Our hope is that in the next two to three weeks, they should be having their vaccines. But I cannot give you a specific date."

Separately from the AU's efforts, Africa is to receive about 600 million vaccine doses this year via the COVAX facility co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the Middle East, several nations were introducing new restrictions. In Saudi Arabia, where authorities already have banned travel to the kingdom from 20 countries, including the U.S., officials also ordered all weddings and parties suspended. It closed down all shopping malls, gyms and other locations for 10 days, as well as indoor dining. Authorities warned the new measures could be extended.

In Kuwait, authorities have ordered a two-week ban on foreigners arriving to the country beginning Sunday. Separately, officials have ordered most businesses closed from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning Sunday for the next month. 

Qatar similarly announced new restrictions Wednesday on daily life, though not as severe as other countries. In Doha, the state-run Qatar News Agency quoted COVID-19 task force chairman Dr. Abdullatif al-Khal as warning that "a remarkable increase with an accelerated pace in the number of infections and the reproductive factor of the virus were recorded, which may be an early indicator of a possible second wave."

In the Asia-Pacific region, World Health Organization investigators looking for clues into the origin of the coronavirus in Wuhan said the Chinese side has provided a high level of co-operation but cautioned against expecting immediate results.

Along with the key Wuhan Institute of Virology, the WHO team that includes experts from 10 nations has visited hospitals, research institutes and a traditional market tied to the outbreak.

The team on Thursday spent two hours meeting with managers and residents at the Jiangxinyuan community administrative centre in Wuhan's Hanyang District. Official statistics show there were at least 16 confirmed coronavirus cases in the community last year among nearly 10,000 people living there when the virus broke out.

Bangladesh's Beximco Pharmaceuticals said the Serum Institute of India has delayed the first supplies of the vaccine for private sale, instead prioritizing government immunization campaigns.

Australia's second-most populous city reintroduced coronavirus restrictions from Thursday after an Australian Open hotel quarantine worker tested positive for COVID-19, sending more than 500 tennis players and officials into isolation.

In Europe, the new head of Portugal's COVID-19 vaccination task force is due to start work Thursday amid scandals over vaccine queue-jumping and frustration over a sluggish rollout similar to that seen in other European Union countries. Rear Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo is taking charge a day after his predecessor resigned.

French police officers in Nice enforce a nationwide pandemic curfew, from 6 p.m to 6 a.m. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that she wakes up at night thinking about the life-and-death decisions she faces in trying to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Merkel, a scientist known for her no-nonsense approach, has come under pressure in the last few weeks over a slow vaccination rollout in Germany and the European Union compared with countries such as Britain, the United States and Israel.

"I do wake up sometimes at night and think about things. It's a difficult time for me. I want to have thought things through a lot before I make decisions," Merkel told RTL/n-tv. Germany has registered more than 2.2 million cases and nearly 60,000 deaths related to the virus.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

With files from The Canadian Press, Reuters and CBC News

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