Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday
U.S. House approves budget outline that allows Democrats to move ahead with $1.9-trillion in COVID-19 relief
- 'Our plan is working,' Trudeau says amid new vaccine delays.
- Ottawa uncertain if Moderna shortage will impact Indigenous vaccine rollout.
- B.C. extending its pandemic restrictions indefinitely.
- Ontario reports 1,670 new cases of COVID-19 as test positivity rate dips to lowest in months.
- U.S. Senate passes budget plan to advance Biden's $1.9-trillion US COVID aid package.
- Israel plans to begin slowly easing its latest coronavirus lockdown on Sunday.
- Have a question about the coronavirus pandemic? Send your question to COVID@cbc.ca.
President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress forged ahead with their $1.9 trillion US COVID-19 relief package on Friday as lawmakers approved a budget outline that will allow them to muscle Biden's plan through in the coming weeks without Republican support.
By a party-line vote of 219-209, the House of Representatives passed the budget plan, after the Senate approved it in a pre-dawn vote. Vice-President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate for the first time.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted the final COVID-19 relief legislation could pass Congress before March 15, when special unemployment benefits that were added during the pandemic expire.
Meeting at the White House, Biden and top Democrats said they wanted to enact the massive aid package as quickly as possible to beat back a pandemic that has killed more than 450,000 Americans and left millions of jobless.
Biden said he was open to compromise with Republicans as long as they did not slow things down.
"If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation … that's an easy choice," he said. "I'm going to help the American people hurting now."
Continued weakness in the job market, underscored by data released on Friday, proved the need for aggressive action, Biden said.
Republicans have floated a $600 billion US aid package, less than a third the size of the Democratic plan. Even some Democrats, such as Larry Summers, an economic adviser to former President Barack Obama, have warned that Biden might be spending too much.
Republican Representative Michael Burgess said Congress should wait until all of the previous $4 trillion US in pandemic relief has been spent. He said $1 trillion US has yet to go out the door.
"Why is it suddenly so urgent that we pass another $2 trillion bill?" Burgess demanded.
The budget resolution enables Democrats to pass Biden's plan by a simple majority in the Senate instead of the 60 votes required for most legislation. That means Democrats, who control 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber, might not need Republican votes. Democrats have a 10-seat majority in the House.
In its overnight session, the Senate voted to oppose an immediate increase of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour. Senators also backed a motion calling for direct payments of up to $1,400 to be tailored to low-income earners. The White House says it is open to that idea.
The House vote Friday incorporated the Senate's changes.
The approved amendments do not carry the force of law in a budget blueprint, but can serve as guidelines for developing the actual coronavirus aid bill in coming weeks.
New signs of weakening economy
The push for stimulus comes amid new signs of a weakening U.S. economy. Employers added just 49,000 jobs in January, after cutting 227,000 jobs in December, the Labour Department said Friday. Restaurants, retailers, manufacturers and even the health-care sector shed workers last month, meaning that private employers accounted for a meagre gain of 6,000 jobs last month.
"At that rate, it's going to take 10 years until we hit full employment," Biden said at the meeting with House Democrats. "That's not hyperbole. That's a fact."
The unemployment rate fell to 6.3 per cent from 6.7 per cent, but there was a decline in the number of people who were either working or looking for a job in a sign that some people are dropping out of the labour force. The U.S. economy is 9.9 million jobs shy of its pre-pandemic level.
Biden, who has been meeting with lawmakers in recent days to discuss the package, welcomed the leaders of House committees who will be assembling the bill under the budget process known as "reconciliation."
Biden also plans to make remarks Friday on the economy as he keeps up the pressure on Congress to "act big" on his relief package.
Concerns over Super Bowl
Coronavirus deaths in the United States surpassed 450,000 on Thursday, and daily deaths remain stubbornly high at more than 3,000 a day, despite falling infections and as the country races to vaccinate more people.
Infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping soon, after new cases hit a peak right around the beginning of the year. New COVID-19 deaths could ebb as early as next week, said the new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But there's also the risk that improving trends in infections and hospitalizations could be offset by people relaxing and coming together — including this Sunday, to watch football, she added.
"I'm worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly," Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Public health experts are watching Florida closely this week, because the Super Bowl will be played in Tampa. City leaders and the NFL are trying to physical social distancing by capping attendance at a third of the stadium's capacity — 22,000 people.
- From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 3:00 p.m. ET
What's happening across Canada
As of 7:00 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 797,757 cases of COVID-19 — with 46,418 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 20,609.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that he understands why there is a "tremendous amount of anxiety" among Canadians with the constant flow of bad news about the inoculation campaign, but he doubled down on his promise to deliver six million shots by the end of March.
"We are very much on track," he said.
Trudeau asked Canadians to tune out the "noise" from some circles about the sorry state of the country's vaccine efforts, saying the temporary "ups and downs" in the rollout may be frustrating to "some people," but they're just that — temporary.
WATCH | Physical distance key to preventing transmission of variants, York's chief medical officer says:
British Columbia is extending its pandemic restrictions indefinitely, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Friday. The province's current orders were set to expire at midnight.
"Right now, we need to stay the path," Henry said. "We need to protect the progress we have made and not squander our progress."
Recent days have seen a slow downward trend in the number of new daily cases in B.C., and the number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 is now at its lowest level since Nov. 21.
Ontario logged its lowest test positivity rate in months as it reported another 1,670 cases of COVID-19 and 45 additional deaths on Friday.
Labs completed 62,710 tests for the coronavirus and reported a provincewide positivity rate of 2.5 per cent — the lowest it has been since Oct. 22, 2020.
WATCH | Quick detection key to stopping spread of variants, immunologist says:
In Quebec, officials have also announced more details on the province's plan for a gradual return to class for CEGEPs, colleges and universities.
Starting next week, students in red zones can head back several times a month, ideally once a week, Quebec's Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann said Thursday. Classroom capacity is being capped at 50 per cent for theory classes, and everyone must maintain a 1.5-metre distance and wear a mask.
Quebec reported 1,101 new cases and 33 new deaths on Friday, as the province's public health director said the government is increasing its capacity to analyze COVID-19 cases for the presence of coronavirus variants.
Dr. Horacia Arruda said eight cases of the more infectious variant discovered in the United Kingdom have been identified so far in the province.
Nova Scotia announced Friday that public health restrictions will be eased as of Monday, Feb. 8, to allow for some gatherings. Retail shops and fitness facilities may operate at 75 per cent capacity, and some outdoor events may proceed with 150 people or less. The province announced no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the active number of cases to eight. Two patients are in hospital, including one in the ICU.
In other provincial and territorial updates, Alberta reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom and South Africa. That brings the variant total in the province to 78. In all, the government says there are 396 new infections and nine additional deaths. There are 475 people in hospital with the virus; 89 of those are in intensive care.
New Brunswick reported seven new cases, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island reported one new case each. Nunavut reported no new cases. Manitoba reported 110 new cases Friday, as well as one death.
Here's a look at what's happening across the country:
- Quebec signing more contracts with private clinics to help clear surgery waitlists
- These are the B.C. seniors' residences hardest hit by COVID-19 outbreaks
- Death of Red Deer man linked to COVID-19 outbreak at meat plant, says Alberta Health
- Nurses union calls for more transparency as Sask. sees 3rd case of coronavirus variant
- Alberta labs screening up to 300 tests per day for coronavirus variants of concern
- 'We're thinking of you': Edmonton Oilers send message to N.W.T. community during COVID-19 containment order
- Tourism P.E.I. having trouble marketing due to Atlantic bubble bust
- 'Bricks and clicks': Why some Winnipeg retailers are expanding storefronts during a pandemic
- From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:00 p.m. ET
What's happening around the world
As of Friday afternoon, more than 105 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 58.4 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.
In the Americas, the White House said the Pentagon will deploy more than 1,100 troops to help vaccinate people in the United States against COVID-19. Biden has called for setting up 100 mass vaccination centres around the country within a month. Two of the five new military teams will go to vaccination centres opening in California. Three additional centres are expected to be announced soon.
In Africa, Burundi has become at least the second African country to say it doesn't need COVID-19 vaccines, even as doses finally begin to arrive on the continent that's seeing a deadly resurgence in cases.
The health minister of the East African nation, Thaddee Ndikumana, told reporters on Thursday evening that prevention is more important, and "since more than 95 per cent of patients are recovering, we estimate that the vaccines are not yet necessary."
The minister spoke while announcing new measures against the pandemic. The country closed its land and water borders last month. It now has well over 1,600 confirmed coronavirus cases.
In the Middle East, Israel plans to begin slowly easing its latest coronavirus lockdown on Sunday, hoping that its rapid vaccination campaign helps to contain an outbreak accelerated by new variants.
A government statement released early Friday details the lifting of restrictions. People will no longer have to remain within 1,000 metres of home, national parks will reopen, and restaurants can offer takeout. Workplaces not open to the public can also reopen.
Yemen expects a first batch of 2.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by March through the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, and Saudi Arabia could separately finance shots for about half of the population, agencies involved have said.
Six years of war in Yemen have left what little remains of its health system relying on foreign aid. The health ministry for Yemen's internationally recognized government on Friday said it had applied to Saudi Arabia's King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSRelief) for it to finance vaccines for 50 per cent of the population.
KSRelief could not immediately be reached for comment. Saudi's finance minister last month said his country was talking to manufacturers to provide COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries including Yemen.
In the Asia-Pacific region, all 507 Australian Open players and staff who stayed at a quarantine hotel where a worker contracted COVID-19 have tested negative and been cleared to participate in the Grand Slam, tournament director Craig Tiley said on Friday.
Health officials said on Wednesday that a worker at the Grand Hyatt hotel had contracted the virus, prompting the testing and quarantining of 160 players, as well as coaches and Australian Open officials. Warm-up matches at Melbourne Park were called off on Thursday but resumed on Friday.
In Europe, Germany's health minister says first batches of the newly authorized Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will be delivered to the country's 16 states Friday.
Jens Spahn said the addition of a third vaccine would "make a real difference" to Germany's immunization campaign, which has so far been sluggish compared to the United States or Britain. But Spahn said that, for now, the AstraZeneca shot will only be given to people aged 18-64, due to lack of data on older age groups.
Spain has reported its first case of the COVID-19 variant first detected in Brazil in a passenger arriving at Madrid airport The Madrid regional health department said Friday the 44-year-old man arrived from Brazil on Jan. 29 and had a negative PCR document but tested positive in an antibody test at the airport. He was taken to a city hospital, which later confirmed the variant.
On Friday, Spain reported 28,565 new coronavirus cases, resuming a downward trend. Spain has registered 2.9 million cases and a confirmed death toll of 61,386. The country this week began tightening restrictions on flights from Brazil and South Africa owing to variants detected in those countries. It already has similar restrictions with Britain.
British officials say everyone arriving in the country from coronavirus hot spots will have to spend 10 days in hotel quarantine starting Feb. 15 in a bid to stop new variants of the virus reaching the U.K.
Arrivals from high-risk countries will have to quarantine in approved hotels patrolled by security guards and will be billed for their stay. The government is facing criticism for the delay in implementing the policy, which it first announced in late January.
Poland's prime minister says hotel, theatres, ski lifts, swimming pools and other facilities will be allowed to reopen with conditions such as limited capacity, social distancing and mask use starting next week.
Prime Minster Mateusz Morawiecki said Friday that the country's existing pandemic restrictions have led to a "fragile stabilization" in the number of new COVID-19 cases but the number of deaths, around 400 daily, remains "very disturbing."
- From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 2:25 p.m. ET
With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press and CBC News