Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on March 23
Regina puts new limits on private gatherings, restaurants amid rise in variant cases
- Saskatchewan closing restaurants, banning private gatherings in Regina.
- Health Canada says AstraZeneca shot is safe as U.S. questions clinical trial data.
- Conservatives demand national plan to end COVID-19 restrictions.
- Quebec eases some restrictions for schools, seniors' homes.
- Manitoba stays in code red, but outdoor gathering sizes increase to 25 on Friday.
- Ontario reports 1,546 new COVID-19 cases as ICU admissions continue slow climb.
- Is AstraZeneca vaccine safe for people who've had blood clots? Your COVID-19 questions answered.
- Have a question about the COVID-19 pandemic? You can reach us at COVID@cbc.ca
Canada's top doctor says a rise in new strains of COVID-19, including the B117 variant, is leading to higher average hospitalization rates and more severe outcome trends among younger people across the country.
The warning comes as Saskatchewan announced tougher restrictions for Regina, a variant hot spot, even as other provinces like Manitoba and Quebec eased some of their own COVID-19 public health measures.
At a media briefing on Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said stronger evidence coming from the United Kingdom, where the B117 variant was first reported, shows this new strain can cause more severe illness in the elderly and in younger age groups.
She says if these numbers increase in the younger population, hospitalizations and visits to intensive care units are likely to increase.
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Over the past week, there has been a further 15 per cent increase in daily COVID-19 cases, with an average of more than 3,600 new cases daily.
As of Monday evening, a tracking site maintained by federal officials showed there have been 5,117 reported cases of the B117 variant across the country.
It also showed 244 reported cases of the B1351 variant, which was first detected in South Africa, and 124 reported cases of the P1 variant, which was first detected in Brazil.
Starting immediately, private indoor gatherings in Regina and area are limited to a person's household only, with some exceptions made for people who live alone and single parents of minor children.
Starting on March 28, restaurants and bars must close to indoor dining. Event venues, including banquet and community halls, arts venues, museums, libraries and cinemas, must also close.
The province reported 150 new cases and one new death on Tuesday. Notably, the province also reported 891 cases involving variants of concern (VOCs) as of Tuesday — 763 of which are in Regina.
The new figures came as the province announced a change in how it is reporting cases involving VOCs.
"These have previously been reported as 'presumptive positives,' but all screening tests will be considered confirmed VOCs for the purposes of public reporting and contact investigations," the province said in its update.
Meanwhile, new research suggested the province has among the least stringent COVID-19 measures among Canadian provinces and the highest case rate per capita.
- From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6 p.m. ET.
What's happening across Canada
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As of 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had reported 942,325 cases of COVID-19, with 36,310 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,735.
In Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, both in people under the age of 19.
The island, which has not recorded any COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began, had eight active cases as of Tuesday, officials said.
In New Brunswick, health officials reported seven new cases of COVID-19. Nova Scotia, meanwhile, reported one new case of COVID-19, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases.
Ontario on Tuesday reported 1,546 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. According to provincial data, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 868, with 324 in intensive care units.
People aged 75 years and older in Ontario began booking their vaccine appointments on Monday through a provincial online portal and call centre, while pharmacies in three public health units started administering AstraZeneca-Oxford shots to those aged 60 and older.
Premier Doug Ford announced Tuesday that the province will invest $3.7 million in funding as part of the 2021 provincial budget for seniors and those with disabilities facing transportation barriers to access COVID-19 vaccines.
Separately, the federal government is rolling out extra funding in key regions of Ontario for COVID-19 isolation sites in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Ottawa will spend an additional $23.7 million to operate self-isolation sites in Toronto and the regions of Peel, York and Durham, with more sites in the works for Thunder Bay, Windsor and other regions, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Tuesday.
In Quebec, Premier François Legault eased restrictions for schools and seniors' homes as the province reported 656 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths on Tuesday.
Hospitalizations in the province stood at 519, with 113 COVID-19 patients reported to be in intensive care units.
As of Monday, Secondary 3, 4 and 5 students in red zones will be able to attend school in-person full time. Right now, they alternate daily between being at school and online learning. And starting Wednesday, dining rooms can reopen in seniors' homes where at least 75 per cent of residents have been vaccinated at least three weeks ago.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 98 new cases and one new death on Tuesday as officials said they are keeping the province at the highest level of restrictions in the pandemic response system, though a few restrictions will be loosened beginning Friday.
The limit on outdoor gatherings, weddings and funerals is increasing to 25 people from 10, and the maximum capacity for stores is increasing to 500 people from 250, although stores may not exceed 50 per cent capacity. People will also be allowed to leave their vehicles while attending drive-in events.
The decision to keep the province at code red is due to feedback from Manitobans, concerns over rising numbers of more transmissible coronavirus variants and the need to maintain stability in the health-care system, the province said in a news release.
Alberta reported 465 new cases of COVID-19 and three related deaths on Tuesday. Of the new cases, 197 involved the highly infectious variant strains of the virus, which now account for 18 per cent of all active cases of COVID-19 in the province.
In British Columbia, health officials announced 682 new cases of COVID-19 and one related death on Tuesday.
On Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said indoor gatherings of "any size" remain a risk and urged people to follow public health guidelines and only gather in small groups of up to 10 outside. Social gatherings of any size aren't allowed inside homes with anyone outside one's household or, for those who live alone, one's core bubble.
Across the North, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut all reported no new cases on Tuesday.
WATCH | B.C. health minister says indoor gatherings still a 'major problem':
- From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 8:30 p.m. ET
What's happening around the world
As of Tuesday evening, more than 123.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with 70.3 million cases listed as recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.
In Europe, Italy registered 551 deaths, its highest one-day COVID-19 death toll since mid-January. The country is struggling with a surge of infections, and health experts say it is partly fuelled by the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain.
Italy's vaccine rollout was slowed by delays in deliveries by manufacturers and other logistic problems. Many people 80 or older say they haven't been able to reserve a slot for a first dose of vaccine.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany is extending its lockdown until April 18 and calling on citizens to stay at home over the Easter holiday to try to break a third wave of the pandemic as the country races to vaccinate its population.
A leading European Union official has lashed out at AstraZeneca for its massive shortfall in producing vaccine doses for the 27-nation bloc and threatened that any shots produced by the company in the EU could be forced to stay there.
Sandra Galina, chief of the European Commission's health division, told legislators on Tuesday that while vaccine producers such as Pfizer and Moderna have largely met their commitments, "the problem has been AstraZeneca. So it's one contract which we have a serious problem."
The European Union has been criticized at home and abroad for its slow vaccine rollout, standing at about a third of jabs given to their citizens compared with countries like the United States and United Kingdom.
Galina said the overwhelming responsibility lies with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was supposed to be the workhorse of the drive, because it is cheaper and easier to transport and was supposed to be delivered in huge amounts in the first half of the year.
"We are not even receiving a quarter of such deliveries as regards this issue," Galina said, noting that AstraZeneca could expect a response from the EU. "We intend, of course, to take action because, you know, this is the issue that cannot be left unattended."
The EU already closed an advance purchasing agreement with the Anglo-Swedish company last August for up to 400 million doses.
In the Asia-Pacific region, with new infections on the rise the past few weeks, India will start vaccinating everyone over the age of 45 starting on April 1.
Federal information minister Prakash Javadekar made the announcement on Tuesday, when more than 40,000 new cases were detected in the last 24 hours. Most infections are in Maharashtra state in India's western coast. But cases have spiked in other states like Punjab, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has received his first shot of AstraZeneca's vaccine as he plans to attend June's Group of Seven meetings in Britain.
Moon received his shot on Tuesday at a public health office in downtown Seoul, along with his wife and other presidential officials who plan to accompany him during the June 11-13 meetings.
Moon's office said he was feeling "comfortable" after receiving the shot and complimented the skills of a nurse who he said injected him without causing pain. The office said Moon will likely receive his second dose sometime around mid-May.
South Korea launched its mass immunization program in February and plans to deliver the first doses to 12 million people through the first half of the year, including elders, front-line health workers and people in long-term care settings.
Officials aim to vaccinate more than 70 per cent of the country's 51 million population by November, which they hope would meaningfully slow the virus and reduce risks of economic and social activity.
In the Americas, Brazil reported more than 3,000 COVID-19-related deaths in a single day for the first time amid calls for the government and the new health minister to take action to stem the nation's resurgence of coronavirus infections.
In recent weeks, the country has become the pandemic's global epicentre, with more deaths from the virus each day than in any other nation.
Tuesday's record toll of 3,251 deaths was driven by the state of São Paulo, Brazil's most populous, which recorded 1,021 new deaths, far above the previous high of 713 last July. The pandemic has brought the health systems of Brazilian states to near collapse.
Earlierin the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that a surge of coronavirus cases in Europe could foreshadow a similar surge in the country. Fauci, the top infectious disease doctor in the U.S., is urging Americans to remain cautious while the nation races to vaccinate its citizens.
In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America, Fauci said he is "optimistic" of the vaccines' effectiveness and expressed hope that AstraZeneca's vaccine could join the arsenal of inoculations.
He deemed it an "unforced error" that the company may have used outdated data in a clinical trial, perhaps casting doubt on its effectiveness. But he says Americans should take comfort knowing the FDA would conduct an independent review before it was approved for use in the United States.
In Africa, Nigeria suspended the airline Emirates from flying into or out of its territory last week after the carrier imposed additional COVID-19 test requirements on passengers from the country, the aviation minister said.
In the Middle East, Hamas authorities are reinstating restrictions in the Gaza Strip after a rise in daily coronavirus infections.
The Interior Ministry of the Islamic militant group announced Tuesday a nighttime curfew starting at 9 p.m. on Saturday in the Palestinian territory. Mourning houses and street wedding parties will be banned.
Meanwhile, daily COVID-19 infections in Turkey surged above 26,000, weeks after the government eased restrictions in dozens of provinces under a so-called "controlled normalization" program.
The Health Ministry reported a total of 26,182 new infections on Tuesday — a level previously seen in December. The death toll reached 30,316, with 138 new deaths — the highest one-day fatality since January.
The government on March 1 divided Turkey's provinces into four risk categories and allowed restaurants and cafes to reopen in low, medium and high-risk provinces. Weekend lockdowns were also eased in those provinces although nighttime curfews, introduced in late November, are still in place across the country.
- From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:55 p.m. ET
With files from CBC News, Reuters and The Associated Press