Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on March 3
Quebec loosening restrictions, advisory group recommends extending vaccine dose interval to 4 months
- Germany extends lockdown but sets out phased plan to relax more rules.
- U.S. President Joe Biden says decisions in Texas, Mississippi to end mask-wearing requirements amount to 'Neanderthal thinking'
- Quebec will lift some restrictions outside greater Montreal region after March break.
- National advisory committee recommends stretching interval between vaccine doses to 4 months.
- Health Canada allows Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be stored, transported at higher temperatures.
- An earlier end date for Canada's vaccination campaign is 'possible,' Trudeau says.
- COVID-linked deaths in Ontario top 7,000 as record-high number get vaccine shots.
- Ontario long-term care homes continue breaking COVID-19 safety rules.
- Have a question about the coronavirus pandemic? You can reach us at COVID@cbc.ca
Quebec is loosening restrictions around restaurants, gyms and places of worship, as well as shortening the province's curfew, in regions outside of greater Montreal starting next week.
Premier François Legault provided the update on COVID-19 restrictions at a briefing on Wednesday.
Starting next Monday, people living outside greater Montreal will be allowed to once again hit the gym, dine at restaurants and attend houses of worship, though physical distancing limits will apply. They will also be able to stay out until 9:30 p.m., rather than the current curfew of 8 p.m.
However, it will still be prohibited to have social visitors from another address, except for people who live alone.
The Montreal region will remain in the maximum red-zone alert level, as the health network there is still strained amid wider concerns about the rise of more contagious COVID-19 variants.
Quebec recorded 729 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 additional deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 618, with 120 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
Provincial data also showed 16,117 doses of vaccine were administered the day before, bringing the total number of doses that Quebec has administered since Dec. 14 to 472,710.
Changes to vaccine rollout
Across the country, just over two million doses have been given so far. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada's vaccination campaign could wrap up before September — ahead of schedule — if the country secures the necessary shots and if there's a change in dosing timelines.
Later Wednesday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) updated its guidance on the maximum interval between doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, raising it from three weeks to four months.
It's a change that some provinces, notably B.C. and Quebec, have implemented already in order to give as many people as possible a first vaccine dose as quickly as possible.
WATCH | Trudeau comments on Biden's vaccine pledge:
"NACI recommends that in the context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply, jurisdictions should maximize the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose of vaccine by extending the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine up to four months after the first," the committee said in a statement.
Trudeau's comments also came on the same day that Canada received its first shipment of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
Our <a href="https://twitter.com/CanBorder?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CanBorder</a> officers welcomed the first delivery of <a href="https://twitter.com/AstraZeneca?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AstraZeneca</a> CoviShield vaccine doses this morning 🇨🇦 <a href="https://t.co/IlfrHFpIzs">pic.twitter.com/IlfrHFpIzs</a>—@BillBlair
Also Wednesday, Health Canada said it has authorized a submission from Pfizer-BioNTech to allow its COVID-19 vaccine to be stored and transported at standard freezer temperatures (between -25°C and -15°C) for up to two weeks instead of ultra-cold conditions.
"Vials stored at -25 C to -15 C for up to two weeks or transported at -25 C to -15 C may be returned one time to the recommended storage condition of -80 C to -60 C," Health Canada said in a statement announcing the change, which the department said follows a "thorough review" of Pfizer-BioNTech's submission.
While ultra-cold conditions are still recommended, the change allows for more flexible transportation and local re-distribution of the vaccine.
- From The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:15 p.m. ET
What's happening across Canada
WATCH | Some provinces won't give AstraZeneca to seniors, could change rollout plans
As of 6:45 p.m. ET, Canada had reported 875,564 cases of COVID-19, with 29,930 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,105.
Ontario on Wednesday reported 958 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 17 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 668, with 274 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 stood at nine, health officials said.
WATCH | P.E.I. eases restrictions, including reopening schools:
Prince Edward Island reported one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as the chief public health officer said there was no evidence of widespread community transmission in the province.
Dr. Heather Morrison said the province is not yet out of the woods, warning that the province is still susceptible to the importation of COVID-19.
"Let us proceed cautiously, and let us continue to be patient and kind," she said.
Across the North, Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories had no new cases.
Manitoba reported 51 new cases and three new deaths on Wednesday. The update comes a day after the government loosened some of its COVID-19 restrictions as its case numbers continued to drop. Starting Friday, people will be allowed to have another entire household visit in their home, and outdoor public gatherings can increase to 10 people from five.
In the other Prairies provinces, Saskatchewan reported 121 new cases and two more deaths on Wednesday. The province said on Tuesday that 91 per cent of its long-term care home residents had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with the other 10 per cent either declining the vaccine or not able to take it because of medical or other reasons.
WATCH | Industrial workplaces remain a concern:
Alberta reported 402 new cases and 12 new deaths on Wednesday. Across the province, hospitals were treating 251 patients with the illness, including 48 in ICU beds.
Health officials also announced that, for the first time, an outbreak of COVID-19 in an Alberta long-term care facility has been linked to a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus.
British Columbia, meanwhile, reported 542 new cases and seven more deaths. There were 246 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, including 64 in intensive care, health officials said.
B.C.'s top doctor had announced earlier this week the province would be delaying second doses of COVID-19 vaccine by four months, citing scientific evidence as well as real-world data.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said the data shows protection from a single dose is upwards of 90 per cent and lasts for several months, and delaying second doses will maximize the benefit of vaccines for everyone while reducing mortality and severe illness for those most at risk.
LISTEN | Mixed messaging around AstraZeneca vaccine and over-65s:
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:45 p.m. ET
What's happening around the world
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 114.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 65 million cases considered recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.5 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the first batch of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Taiwan.
Taiwan has signed contracts securing 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4.76 million doses of vaccines through COVAX. Wednesday's delivery had 117,000 doses, which was transported from the airport with a police escort.
Health-care workers, especially those who have direct contact with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, will be the first to get the shots, Taiwan's Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said at a news briefing. The island has yet to announce a mass vaccination campaign for the general public.
Indonesia has detected two cases of the more infectious COVID-19 variant first discovered in Britain, marking a potential new complication for the country.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he is considering extending an ongoing state of emergency for the Tokyo region for about two weeks, amid concerns that infections have not slowed enough and are continuing to strain health systems in the region.
Suga had declared a month-long state of emergency in Jan. 7 for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, then extended the measure through to March 7. The measure issued for up to 10 other urban prefectures later in January was lifted last week, underscoring the government's eagerness to allow businesses to return to normal as soon as possible.
In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden is directing states to prioritize vaccinating all teachers during the month of March, and announced that the federal government will help in the effort through its partnership with retail pharmacies.
Biden said his goal is for every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and child-care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March. To achieve this, Biden announced that qualifying individuals will be able to sign up this month to be vaccinated at a pharmacy near them.
Biden said that while schools are safe to reopen even before staff have been vaccinated, "time and again, we've heard from educators and parents that have anxieties about that," so to "accelerate" the safe reopening teachers should be prioritized.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued the most sweeping rollback of restrictions of any U.S. state on Tuesday, lifting a mask mandate and saying most businesses may open at full capacity next week, while Michigan and Louisiana also announced a loosening of restrictions.
On Wednesday, Biden said said decisions to end the required wearing of masks — such as those by governors of Texas and Mississippi — amounted to "Neanderthal thinking" given the rising death toll from the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think it's a big mistake," Biden told reporters. "Look, I hope everybody's realized by now, these masks make a difference."
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that 500,000 doses of China's Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine had arrived in the South American country, along with protective material for medical personnel.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia's health ministry has ruled that only people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to attend the hajj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.
In Europe, Spain revised downward its tally of coronavirus cases on Tuesday after eliminating those registered twice in the region of Catalonia.
Germany is extending its coronavirus shutdown by three weeks until March 28 but easing some restrictions to allow non-essential stores and other businesses to reopen in areas with relatively low infection rates.
After about nine hours of talks, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of the country's 16 states agreed Wednesday to measures aimed at balancing concern over the impact of more contagious coronavirus variants with a growing clamour for a return to a more normal life.
The first moves have already been made: Many elementary students returned to school last week. And on Monday, hairdressers opened after a 2½-month break. Current lockdown rules were set to run through Sunday.
On Wednesday, Merkel and the state governors — who in highly decentralized Germany have the power to impose and lift restrictions — set out a phased plan that allows for some further relaxation of restrictions. Regions where infection rates are relatively low — though not as low as previously envisioned — will be able to open non-essential stores, museums and other facilities on a limited basis.
Portugal had its fewest COVID-19 patients in hospital in four months on Tuesday, as its prime minister warned that enforcing lockdown curbs remained essential in a country that topped global death rates a month ago.
In Africa, more countries received the long-awaited first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, with Kenya and Rwanda benefiting from the global COVAX initiative that aims to ensure doses for the world's low- and middle-income nations.
African and other health officials have been frustrated with the sight of a handful of rich countries rolling out vaccines after snapping up large amounts for themselves.
"We will be known as the continent of COVID," if Africa doesn't quickly reach its target of vaccinating 60 per cent of its population of 1.3 billion people, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, said last week. The continent last month surpassed 100,000 confirmed deaths.
So far Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Angola and Congo also have received their first vaccine doses via COVAX, with several other countries including Mali, Senegal, Malawi and Uganda set to receive them this week.
Rwanda is becoming the first African nation to receive the Pfizer vaccine via COVAX. The vaccine needs storage at ultra-cold temperatures, making rollout complex in hot countries and rural areas, for example. COVAX has faced delays related to the severely limited global supply of vaccine doses as well as logistical issues.
- Ivory Coast begins COVID-19 inoculations with shots from COVAX initiative
- History will judge us if we vaccinate rich countries while poor ones suffer, African CDC head says
And COVAX alone will not supply Africa's 54 countries with the doses needed to reach the 60 per cent population coverage for achieving so-called herd immunity, when enough people are protected through infection or vaccination to make it difficult for a virus to continue to spread.
That's why some countries such as South Africa, the hardest-hit African nation, are also pursuing COVID-19 vaccines via bilateral deals or via the African Union's bulk-purchasing program.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 6:15 p.m. ET
With files from The Canadian Press, Reuters and CBC News