Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world Nov. 3

The Ontario government announced Wednesday that it will not mandate COVID-19 vaccination for health-care workers, while Quebec backtracked on its plan to do so.

Quebec backtracks, Ontario not going ahead with vaccine mandates for health-care workers

People walk past a sign thanking front-line workers outside of the Ottawa Hospital. The Ontario government announced Wednesday that it will not mandate COVID-19 vaccines for health-care workers. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

The latest:

The Ontario government announced Wednesday that it will not mandate COVID-19 vaccination for health-care workers, despite support for the measure from the organization representing hospitals and the province's COVID-19 science advisers, while Quebec backtracked on its plan to do so.

In a statement, Ontario Premier Doug Ford pointed to evidence of staff shortages related to vaccine mandates from elsewhere in Canada and said existing Ontario policies will keep people safe without losing workers who refuse to get the shots.

"The impact of the potential departure of tens of thousands of health-care workers is weighed against the small number of outbreaks that are currently active in Ontario's hospitals," he said in the statement.

"Having looked at the evidence, our government has decided to maintain its flexible approach by leaving human resourcing decisions up to individual hospitals."

Ford also raised issues around surgeries being postponed in British Columbia due to staff shortages after its vaccine mandate took effect.

WATCH | Ontario health minister defends decision not to mandate vaccines for health workers: 

Ontario won't require COVID vaccination for health-care workers

3 months ago
Duration 4:01
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott defends her government's decision to not mandate COVID-19 vaccination for health-care workers, even as it offers third doses to vulnerable Ontarians. 4:01

Ahead of today's decision, the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) wrote to Ford in support of a provincewide mandate — a position it said was endorsed by 120 of 141 member hospitals.

The Ontario Nurses' Association also wrote to Ford, saying the current policy allowing unvaccinated workers to be tested is reasonable and citing concerns about worker shortages.

Following the announcement, the OHA expressed disappointment with the decision, saying vaccines provide the highest level of protection against disease. 

"The Public Hospitals Act already requires hospitals to have communicable disease policies in place requiring proof of vaccination/immunity for 17 conditions, including measles, rubella, varicella and tuberculosis," Anthony Dale, OHA President and CEO, said in a statement.

"COVID-19 should be treated no differently. Vaccination is the best way to keep hospital staff and their patients safe from COVID-19."

Dale added that health-care workers have a moral imperative to take every precaution possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario also said it was "deeply disappointed" in a statement. The group's CEO, Dr. Doris Grinspun, called the decision "a disgrace" and said it "shows a lack of courage to do what's right for Ontario's patients and workers."

A patient walks down the hall at Jean-Talon Hospital in Montreal. The Quebec government has cancelled its plan to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all health-care workers, weeks after saying the plan was non-negotiable. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

In Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province is cancelling the vaccine mandate for current health-care workers. The move came just weeks after he gave health-care workers a one-month extension, up to Nov. 15, to get the shot, calling it non-negotiable at the time.

At a briefing Wednesday, Dubé said about 14,000 health-care workers have yet to get a first dose of vaccine. He said 8,000 of them are currently working in the field — 5,000 of them work directly with patients. 

"To deprive ourselves of 8,000 workers would have had devastating consequences for our network."

He said vaccination will no longer be mandatory for current health-care employees but will be required for new hires. Unvaccinated employees will have to be tested for COVID-19 at least three times a week, or face suspension without pay, he said, noting they will also be ineligible for COVID-19 bonuses or retention bonuses.

The government originally set an Oct. 15 deadline for health-care workers to be vaccinated but extended it by a month in the hopes of convincing additional workers to get the shot.

Speaking from the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Quebec Premier François Legault made it clear he was not happy with the outcome.

"To be honest, I am upset," he told reporters. "Because I have a hard time understanding how someone who studied health sciences refuses to get themselves vaccinated, even though experts around the world are unanimous, saying it's the right thing to do."

But Legault said losing unvaccinated workers could result in breaks in services for other sick Quebecers. 

"We had to weigh the inconveniences," he said, acknowledging the new policy puts some patients at risk of exposure.  "But the greater risk was to be missing nurses and not be able to treat Quebecers."

WATCH | Why Canadian parents should get kids COVID-19 vaccines when they can: 

Why this doctor says you should get your kid vaccinated against COVID-19

3 months ago
Duration 7:29
Parents underestimate the potential value of getting their child vaccinated against COVID-19, says respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta. In addition to keeping them physically healthy, it will help with their education, socialization and get society closer to herd immunity. 7:29

- With files from The Canadian Press, last updated at 6 p.m. ET

What's happening in Canada

What's happening around the world

Medical staff wearing special suits help a COVID-19 patient to walk in an intensive care unit at the Regional Clinical Hospital 1, in Krasnodar, Russia, on Tuesday. (Vitali Timkin/The Associated Press)

As of early Wednesday evening, more than 247.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's online coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than five million, and the United States surpassed 750,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The number of coronavirus cases has risen in Europe for the fifth consecutive week, making it the only world region where COVID-19 is still increasing, the World Health Organization reported.

In its weekly report on the pandemic, the UN health agency said new cases jumped by six per cent in Europe for the week of Oct. 25 to 31, compared to an 18 per cent increase the previous week. The weekly number of new infections in other regions either fell or remained about the same, according to the report.

While the Czech Republic, Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe have reported recent infection spikes, the continuing rise in confirmed cases across Europe has been driven mostly by:

  • The United Kingdom, with 285,028 new cases — a 14 per cent decrease from a week earlier.
  • Russia, with 272,147 new cases — a nine per cent increase.
  • Turkey, with 182,027 new cases — an eight per cent decrease.

The highest number of deaths in the region were reported in: 

  • Russia, with 7,938 reported deaths — a nine per cent increase.
  • Ukraine, with 3,857 reported deaths — a 19 per cent increase.
  • Romania, with 3,072 deaths — a six per cent increase.
Demonstrators, one holding a poster reading 'Constitution Is The Supreme Law,' attend a protest against COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

Several hundred people blocked traffic in the centre of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Wednesday in a protest against coronavirus restrictions and mandatory vaccinations, which the government introduced to curb new infections. Vaccines have become mandatory for some state workers, and in "red" zone areas, including Kyiv, only vaccinated people or those with negative COVID-19 test results are allowed into restaurants, gyms and on public transport.

In the Americas, AstraZeneca has asked Health Canada to review a new long-acting antibody combination that could be used to prevent symptomatic COVID-19. If approved, it would be the first antibody protection of its kind in Canada. 

The company says preliminary findings show the antibodies neutralize recent COVID-19 variants, including the delta and mu variants, and was found in trials to reduce the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 by 77 per cent compared to a placebo.

Health workers in the United States are administering COVID-19 vaccines to children aged five to 11 after they became the latest group to be eligible for the shots.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for broad use in that age group.

Only a limited number of the 15 million shots being distributed now will be available on Wednesday. They are expected to be more widely accessible at pediatricians' offices, children's hospitals and pharmacies next week.

Kidney transplant patient Eunice Lee, 8, laughs after getting a sticker following her vaccination on Wednesday at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

Mexico's health ministry reported 269 confirmed coronavirus fatalities, bringing the country's overall death toll from the pandemic to 288,733.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the World Health Organization granted an emergency use license Wednesday to a coronavirus vaccine developed in India, offering reassurance for a shot the country's regulators allowed long before advanced safety and efficacy testing was completed.

The UN health agency said in a statement that it had authorized Covaxin, made by India's Bharat Biotech. That makes Covaxin the eighth COVID-19 vaccine to receive WHO's green light.

The vaccine is made using a killed coronavirus to prompt an immune response and is given in two doses.

WHO said the vaccine was found to be about 78 per cent effective in preventing severe COVID-19 and was "extremely suitable" for poor countries due to its much easier storage requirements.

In Africa, nations in West and Central Africa could see a rise in HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in a few years due to disruptions in health services because of the pandemic, the executive director of the UN AIDS agency said.

In the Middle East, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has tested positive for COVID-19.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters last updated at 10:30 p.m. ET

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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