Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on March 24
Alberta risks new restrictions as variants surge, B.C. recruits furloughed workers in vaccination efforts
- Health Canada changes AstraZeneca vaccine label to add information about blood clots.
- B.C.'s number of active cases rises to highest level since early January.
- Trudeau 'concerned' by latest threat to vaccine supply from EU.
- Alberta reports record 202 new variant cases as officials warn of further restrictions.
- Ontario says it will take until at least 2029 to balance its books as it tables pandemic budget.
- Military to begin helping with Manitoba First Nations vaccine rollout by end of March.
- N.L. loosens restrictions around household contacts, formal gatherings.
- Have a question about the COVID-19 pandemic? We're engaging in the comments or you can reach us at COVID@cbc.ca
Manitoba has paused expanding eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine, as appointments at vaccination supersites across the province have started to back up amid uncertainty about supply.
For now, the age of eligibility will remain at 65 and older for the general population, and 45 and older for First Nations people, members of the province's vaccine implementation task force said Wednesday morning.
The update comes as the province reported 81 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and no new deaths. The provincial test positivity rate stands at 4.6 per cent, down from 5.3 per cent on Tuesday.
The day before, officials announced they will allow more people to gather outdoors but will largely stick with existing red level restrictions.
Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, cited a need to be cautious as the province sees a "slow increase" in case numbers and an increasing proportion of variant cases.
"We know these variants spread much more readily, and so we need to continue to do what we can to limit that transmission," Roussin said on Tuesday. "There continues to be reasons to be optimistic, but we need to be cautious in the meantime."
Roussin said the province doesn't have "nearly the amount" of vaccine coverage to change the province's public health measures, but he said "we can be optimistic that more and more vaccine is on its way over time."
Meanwhile, members of the military are landing in Manitoba this week to help the vaccination effort in 23 northern First Nations.
Officials say the effort will accelerate the pace of immunizations so that 100,000 First Nations people can get doses in 100 days.
In neighbouring Saskatchewan, the province reported 190 new cases and one more death on Wednesday, as restaurants in Regina brace for the suspension of indoor dining starting this weekend.
WATCH | Manitoba's race to get COVID-19 vaccines into First Nations:
Officials announced Tuesday the region is heading back to some of the toughest public health restrictions it's seen during the pandemic because of a concerning spread of COVID-19 variants.
Eighty per cent of the city's more than 700 active infections are in the under-50 age group, according to Premier Scott Moe.
"It is people my age and younger. We just need to be especially diligent," Moe, 47, told a radio talk show Wednesday.
- From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 5:15 p.m. ET
What's happening across Canada
WATCH | Why your masks may not be as protective as you think:
As of 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had reported 946,375 cases of COVID-19, with 37,099 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,759.
In Ontario, the provincial government unveiled a $186-billion budget aimed at helping the province recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan revives benefits, grants and tax credits for families and businesses and includes considerable funding injections for the health-care sector and tourism industry. It sets aside money for job training for Ontarians, particularly those looking for work in the skilled trades.
Notably, the budget did not include a provincial program for paid sick leave, despite advice from health experts and advocacy groups that it could help curb the spread of the coronavirus. The province has said the federal paid sick leave program is sufficient for Ontarians but should be easier to access.
The plan projects a deficit of $33.1 billion for the year, with the province saying it will take until 2029 to balance the books.
Ontario reported 1,571 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 additional deaths. According to provincial figures updated Wednesday, COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 893, with 333 people in intensive care units.
In Quebec on Wednesday, health officials reported 783 new cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 508, with 118 people in intensive care units, a provincial dashboard said.
The province is seeing a jarring wave of domestic violence that has claimed the lives of several women in recent weeks. At a news conference, Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault urged women in abusive relationships to not let the curfew and other public health restrictions get in the way of seeking help.
"There are no restrictions for a woman that needs to leave a violent home," she said.
Across the North, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19 as the province's chief medical officer loosened COVID-19 restrictions.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said people should continue to keep contacts low, but starting Saturday, households can have up to 20 close, consistent contacts. Formal gatherings, such as weddings, funerals and faith-based services, can increase attendance to 50 people.
WATCH | N.L. health officer explains move to lower alert level:
New Brunswick reported 12 new cases, 10 of them in the Edmundston region and two in the Moncton area. Nova Scotia reported five new cases, all in the Halifax area. There were no new cases reported in Prince Edward Island.
In Alberta, health officials reported 692 new cases and two new deaths on Wednesday. There were 285 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 53 in intensive care.
They also reported a record 202 new cases linked to highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, with those variant cases now making up about 19 per cent of all active cases in the province.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, warned that additional restrictions may be necessary to slow the spread.
Part of the challenge for health officials, she said, is that there is no one single sector or activity driving the recent increase in cases. "We have seen indoor social gatherings, outbreaks, and people working while symptomatic all play a role, along with many other factors," she said.
British Columbia, meanwhile, is also facing a concerning trend as it reported 716 new cases on Wednesday, raising its number of active cases to 5,573, the highest level since early January.
Health officials also reported three new deaths. There are 303 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 85 in intensive care.
The province is recruiting 1,400 furloughed workers from B.C.'s hard-hit hospitality and tourism sectors to help launch mass immunization clinics in April, Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday.
Workers from 14 organizations including Air Canada, the Vancouver Canucks and Tourism Whistler will perform non-clinical work in the province's immunization centres.
B.C. has accelerated its vaccination timeline so that people who are at higher risk from COVID-19 due to existing medical conditions, as well as some seniors, can book their shots earlier than expected.
- From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET
What's happening around the world
As of Wednesday evening, more than 124.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with 70.7 million cases considered recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.
In Europe, the European Union is moving toward stricter export controls to ensure that there are more COVID-19 shot supplies for the bloc, which should boost its flagging vaccine drive at a time of another surge of the coronavirus pandemic on the continent.
The EU's executive body said Wednesday on the eve of a summit of the 27 leaders that it has a plan ready to guarantee that more vaccines produced in the bloc are available for its own citizens before they can be shipped for exports.
EU nations have been specifically stung by the United Kingdom, which has received some 10 million doses from EU plants while they say nothing came back from Britain. The EU now insists on reciprocity as it sees vaccination rates in Britain racing upwards, while the bloc proceeds at a crawl.
"We have secured more than enough doses for the entire population. But we have to ensure timely and sufficient vaccine deliveries to EU citizens," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. "Every day counts."
Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, has dropped plans for a five-day shutdown in Germany over Easter, which had prompted confusion and criticism. She called the idea a mistake and apologized to Germans. Merkel announced the decision after calling a hastily arranged video conference with Germany's 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions.
The same group had come up with the unexpected plan for deeper restrictions over Easter, which was announced early Tuesday. The plan was to make Thursday, the day before Good Friday, a "rest day," with all shops closed, and only allow supermarkets to open on Easter Saturday.
France's culture minister has been hospitalized for COVID-19, the latest senior official to be infected as the nation faces a third surge of infections. Roselyne Bachelot announced last weekend that she had tested positive and her hospitalization was made public Wednesday. The latest surge has been likely propelled by the highly contagious virus variant first seen in Britain.
ICUs in the Paris region as well as in northern and southeastern France are filling up. French President Emmanuel Macron, who was infected months ago but never hospitalized, announced on Tuesday an acceleration of the country's vaccination campaign. Now all people over 70 are eligible to get a shot.
Poland will likely have to toughen restrictions again after reporting what early figures suggest will be a record number of new infections.
Spain's coronavirus infection rate edged up, highlighting concern that a long decline is in danger of reversing.
In the Americas, Dr. Anthony Fauci isn't ready to say the United States has turned the corner on the coronavirus pandemic, despite about 2.5 million Americans getting vaccinated each day.
The U.S. government's top infectious disease expert said he often gets asked that question. His response: "We are at the corner. Whether or not we are going to be turning the corner remains to be seen."
At the White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Fauci said the main challenge remains a stubbornly high level of new daily cases in the country. It's hovering around an average of 55,000 and up slightly in recent days. While that is clearly much better than the 250,000 daily cases at the peak of the winter wave, it's uncomfortably close to levels seen during the coronavirus wave of last summer.
"When you are at that level, I don't think you can declare victory and say you have turned the corner," Fauci said.
On the plus side, along with the growing level of vaccinations, Fauci underscored recent studies that show negligible rates of coronavirus infection among fully vaccinated people. There's also been a significant drop in the number of people 65 and older going to the emergency room with COVID-19. That's the age group most vulnerable to the disease.
More than 85.4 million people, or 25.7 per cent of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Brazil, the country saw its cumulative death toll from COVID-19 top 300,000, following only the United States in reaching that milestone thus far in the pandemic.
Colombia will impose new restrictions on movement and enact nightly curfews in municipalities with high occupancy levels in intensive care units as it tries to avoid a severe third wave of COVID-19.
In Africa, the first 165,000 of up to seven million COVID-19 vaccine doses that MTN Group is donating to African countries have arrived in Ghana.
In the Middle East Lebanon reported 42 additional deaths and more than 3,850 cases of COVID-19, health officials said on Tuesday. The country, which is also in the midst of economic and political turmoil, is awaiting delivery of doses of both the AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines, local media reported.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistan's top health official said Wednesday his country will purchase one million doses of China's Sinopharm vaccine and 60,000 doses of the vaccine made by Chinese company CanSino Biologics.
Faisal Sultan, a special assistant to the prime minister, said on Twitter that an order has been placed for the purchase of Chinese-made vaccines, which will be delivered to Pakistan within days. The purchases will be in addition to 1.5 million doses of vaccine that China is donating to Pakistan in phases. Without giving more details, Sultan said Pakistan will also receive several million doses of vaccines in April.
Pakistan is currently facing a third wave of coronavirus infections.
Also on Wednesday, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said the government is ordering the closure of schools in the capital, Islamabad, and in several other high-risk cities until April 11.
Hong Kong authorities halted the use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, citing defective packaging, which triggered scenes of confusion at inoculation centres across the city.
- From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 8:40 p.m. ET
With files The Canadian Press, Reuters and The Associated Press