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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on March 17

The worldwide scramble to gain control over the coronavirus and to extend vaccine rollout continued Wednesday, as nations wrestled with how to proceed with use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot.

Global case count tops 121 million, according to Johns Hopkins University

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London on Wednesday, to take part in the weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images)

The latest:

The worldwide scramble to gain control over the coronavirus and to extend vaccine rollout continued Wednesday, as nations wrestled with how to proceed with use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot.

Several European Union countries have suspended their rollout of the shot, developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, but Britain's regulator has said that there is no evidence of a causal link between reports of thrombo-embolic events and the vaccine.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that he would be vaccinated "very, very shortly" with the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot.

Also Wednesday, Britain's National Health Service said the country, which has given first vaccine doses to 25 million adults, would see a drop in the availability of vaccines toward the end of the month, an issue likely to last four weeks or so.

Across the English Channel in France, one of the countries that has suspended AstraZeneca jabs while it waits for the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Prime Minister Jean Castex has signalled he, too, wants to boost confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine by getting an injection as soon as his government authorizes its use again.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex, seen in Paris on Wednesday, told BFM-TV that he wants to get vaccinated and demonstrate to his fellow citizens that 'vaccination is the exit door from this crisis.' (Christophe Ena/The Associated Press)

The 55-year-old Castex isn't, strictly speaking, among the groups yet eligible for vaccination in France, which has prioritized injections for the most vulnerable.

"Given what is happening, what has just happened, with AstraZeneca, I told myself, in effect, that it would be wise that I get vaccinated very quickly, as soon as the suspension is, I hope, lifted," said Castex, when speaking to BFM-TV on Tuesday.

Castex said that he wants to demonstrate to his fellow citizens "that vaccination is the exit door from this crisis."

Also Wednesday, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said European countries, including his, are hoping that the EMA on Thursday will deliver "the clarifications and reassurances necessary" to be able to resume administering the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

Italy was one of several nations that in recent days halted AstraZeneca shots over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame.

WATCH | Millions of Italians back under lockdown:

Italy in lockdown as it battles 3rd wave of COVID-19

The National

2 months ago
2:01
Millions of Italians are back under lockdown restrictions, as the country is hit with a third wave of COVID-19. Deaths and intensive care admissions are also on the rise, while the halt on AstraZeneca is slowing down Italy's overall vaccination effort. 2:01

Speranza said it is Italy's hope "to have by tomorrow answers from EMA that will enable the relaunching without hesitation of the vaccine campaign," using AstraZeneca doses.

He said the Italian government "has utmost trust in EMA," as well as in Italy's medicine agency, noting: "We insist on the utmost safety and we are paying the utmost attention to what has happened."

So far, just under 10 per cent of Italy's population has received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Spanish health officials, meanwhile, said they are investigating two more cases of adverse reactions among people who received a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Spain's Health Ministry said Wednesday that one person died of a brain stroke that resulted in internal bleeding and a second person who died suffered an abdominal blood clot. Both had been vaccinated in the previous 16 days.

Including the two deaths, the country's medicines agency has recorded three suspicious cases so far among 975,661 AstraZeneca doses administered.

AstraZeneca said on Sunday a review of safety data had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.In a statement released on Wednesday, the World Health Organization addressed the reports out of Europe, saying its Global Advisory Committee on vaccine safety is looking at the latest data around the AstraZeneca product.

Antonio Garcia, 95, receives the Moderna vaccine at the Nurse Isabel Zendal Hospital in Madrid on Wednesday. (Manu Fernandez/The Associated Press)

Those findings will be released to the public when the review is complete. For now, the statement said the global health agency "considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue."

The Geneva-based agency said in large-scale vaccination campaigns, it is "routine for countries to signal potential adverse events following immunization." 

Those adverse events are not necessarily linked to the vaccine itself, WHO said, but it is "good practice to investigate them."

Brazilian and Australian regulators maintained their recommendations to continue rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine despite many European nations pausing its use, while global health experts came under increasing pressure to clear up questions over its safety.

India said on Wednesday its coronavirus immunization campaign would continue, despite some concerns in Europe about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine it relies heavily upon, as infections hit a three month high.

WATCH | Questions answered about the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine:

A doctor with expertise in vaccine hesitancy answers questions about the AstraZeneca vaccine

Health

2 months ago
7:37
Dr. Cora Constantinescu, from the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary, says the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot has been vindicated by real-world data. 7:37

Since starting the drive in mid-January, India has administered 36 million vaccine doses, which are mostly the AstraZeneca shots developed with Oxford University and locally known as Covishield.

Vinod Kumar Paul, who heads a government committee on vaccines, told a news conference that experts in India had looked into the issue and weren't concerned about possible side effects.

"Covishield vaccination in the country will go on with full rigour."

-From Reuters and Associated Press, last updated at 1:30 p.m. ET


What's happening across Canada

As of Wednesday evening, Canada had reported 919,244 cases of COVID-19, with 31,600 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,554.

In Ontario on Wednesday, health officials reported 1,508 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 additional deaths. According to a provincial dashboard, COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 741, with 300 in intensive care units.

WATCH | Updated guidance on vaccine sparks further confusion:

Updated guidance on AstraZeneca vaccine sparks further confusion

The National

2 months ago
2:14
Canada’s vaccine advisory committee changed its guidance on the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, recommending it be given to those over the age of 65. But it has sparked more confusion by saying if given the choice, Pfizer-BioNTech's and Moderna's were still preferable for seniors. 2:14

In Toronto, the city's chief medical officer of health, said she and other officials want to see the province keep the city in its current level of lockdown, with a few modifications.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases at a briefing on Wednesday, as health officials provided an update on the state of the pandemic there, as well as ongoing vaccination efforts.

N.L. Premier Andrew Furey said Wednesday it was possible his province could re-join the so-called Atlantic Bubble next month. He was due to attend a virtual meeting with his fellow Atlantic Canada premiers to discuss the matter on Wednesday evening.

Nova Scotia reported two new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, while New Brunswick reported one additional case in the Edmundston region. No new cases were being reported in Prince Edward Island as of late Wednesday.

In Quebec on Wednesday, health officials reported 703 new cases and 13 additional deaths. According to the province, hospitalizations stood at 532, with 107 in intensive care units.

WATCH | Why targeted vaccinations are important:

Targeted vaccinations can help save lives, says Ottawa doctor

Canada

2 months ago
5:45
As coronavirus cases climb in Ontario, there's a need to vaccinate people quickly, says intensive care physician Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng. He also says it's important to address spikes in communities with high case numbers. 5:45

Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut on Wednesday. Premier Joe Savikataaq said in a tweet that there were just two active cases remaining in the territory. No new cases were being reported in Yukon and the Northwest Territories on Wednesday either.

Also Wednesday, Rebecca Kudloo, the president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, called on Inuit women and families across Canada to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 96 new cases of COVID-19 on WednesdaySaskatchewan reported 87 new cases, along with one new death from COVID-19.

Alberta reported 479 new cases on Wednesday, as well as four additional deaths.

In British Columbia, health officials reported 498 new cases and four additional deaths on Wednesday.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 8:45 p.m. ET


What's happening around the world

Health-care workers inoculate people at the Bang Khae Market on Thursday in Bangkok, Thailand. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

As of Wednesday evening, more than 121 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 68.6 million of those listed as recovered on the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 2.6 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Wednesday that quick and decisive steps were needed to stop an emerging second "peak" of coronavirus infections.

"If we don't stop the growing pandemic right here, then a situation of a nationwide outbreak can get created," Modi told a virtual conference of leaders of Indian states.

India has seen more than 11.4 million of its people infected during the pandemic, the third-highest national total in the world. It has also suffered more than 159,000 deaths.

Rapidly increasing COVID-19 infections in hospitals in the Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea were hitting its fragile health system "like a tornado," with services shutting as staff become ill, health workers said Wednesday.

Australia said it would send 8,000 vaccines to its northern neighbour, responding to a request for urgent assistance for the country's small health workforce of 5,000 nurses and doctors. Australia is also asking the EU to send one million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines the country procured to Papua New Guinea.

A city employee, left, disinfects a neighbourhood in Manila on Tuesday as the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 surges. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images)

The Philippine government has decided to temporarily ban the entry of foreigners and limit the entry of returning Filipinos at Manila's international airport to 1,500 daily as it struggles to contain an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.

A government body dealing with the pandemic said the month-long travel restrictions would start Saturday and aim to prevent the spread into the country of coronavirus strains that are believed to be more contagious. Among those to be allowed limited entry are homebound Filipino workers.

Philippine Airlines said it would announce some flight cancellations to comply with the temporary restriction.

Manila and other cities in the capital region reimposed seven-hour night curfews for two weeks starting Monday and locked down dozens of villages amid the surge in infections, which some officials attributed to public complacency and critics blamed on the failure of the government's response to the pandemic.

The Philippines has reported more than 631,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 12,848 deaths, the second-highest totals in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden warned that the country may not meet his goal of relaxed COVID-19 restrictions by the summer's Independence Day holiday if people do not continue to take precautions, noting vaccinations will still be underway.

A White House spokesperson said Wednesday that the U.S. is considering requests from Canada and Mexico to eventually send excess COVID-19 vaccine supplies to its neighbours. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

"I won't even be able to meet the July 4 deadline unless people listen, wear masks, wash their hands and social distance because not everyone by July 4 will have been vaccinated," he told ABC News' Good Morning America program in an interview that aired on Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the U.S. is "carefully" considering requests from Canada and Mexico to eventually share excess COVID-19 vaccine supplies.

In Brazil, more than 90,000 new cases were reported Wednesday — a daily record for the South American country that already has seen the second-most infections in the world, other than the United States.

The infections record came one day after Brazil, which is now on its fourth health minister of the pandemic, posted a separate record for deaths related to the virus, more than 2,800 in one day.

Also Wednesday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he was happy that supporters have been staging protests that oppose physical distancing.

"Logically, I was happy," Bolsonaro said of the protests in remarks broadcast on social media. "They show that the people are alive … we want our freedom, we want the world to respect our constitution."

In Africa, Libyan health officials said Wednesday that the variant strain of the coronavirus first detected in South African has now been confirmed in the conflict-wrecked country.

The National Center for Disease Control said at least 15 cases have been reported in the western city of Misrata, along with two more cases of another variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

The B117 variant first detected in the U.K. was first reported in Libya on Feb. 24. The centre suggested that the new variants were among the causes of a recent, speedy surge in the confirmed cases of coronavirus in the North African country.

Morocco is further ahead with its vaccination program than any other African country, but undocumented migrants are not part of its plans.

In Europe, Norway has seen a spike in cases, prompting Norwegian Health Minister Bent Hoeie to say that "we are now setting a record that no one wants to set."

A man is seen receiving a dose of the Sinopharm coronavirus disease vaccine in Budapest, Hungary, last month. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

"In the last 24 hours, we have seen 1,156 new cases in Norway," Hoeie said, noting that official figures show that there have been 5,337 new cases since last week. "This is the highest number we have had since the beginning of the pandemic.

Britain is reviewing the idea of vaccine certificates to allow access to travel, hospitality and entertainment and discussing the best way to proceed in terms of fairness, Business Minister Kwarsi Kwarteng said.

Hungary announced a record number of COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday as a powerful surge of the pandemic put an unprecedented strain on the country's health care.

Health officials announced 195 deaths in the last 24 hours, breaking the previous peak of 193 in early December. The number of patients being treated for the disease rose to nearly 10,300, also a record, and nearly three times the number of those hospitalized in early February when the latest surge began.

Officials have sought to mitigate the surge with new restrictions and a vaccination program that has made Hungary one of the most-vaccinated countries in Europe.

A new shipment of 100,000 doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, which among European Union countries is only being used in Hungary, is expected to arrive on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wrote on his Facebook page.

With more than 50,000 jabs on Tuesday, nearly 1.4 million people have received at least one shot, the second-highest rate in the EU.

An elderly woman wearing a face mask walks past a mural in central Athens on Tuesday. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

In Greece, Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said the country was "at the most critical juncture of the pandemic," as he called on doctors to volunteer to work in state hospitals.

Kikilias said that if some 200 doctors did not respond to his call in the next 48 hours he would recommend to the prime minister to allow health authorities to force them work for the state health system.

In the Middle East, the Palestinian Authority said it will receive 62,000 coronavirus vaccine doses through a World Health Organization COVAX partnership. Health Ministry spokesperson Kamal al-Shakhra said authorities would receive 38,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine on Wednesday and Thursday. He said the AstraZeneca vaccine will be kept in storage until the World Health Organization addresses recent safety concerns.

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9:30 p.m. ET

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

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