Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Nov. 8

The European Union's medicines agency began reviewing Merck's COVID-19 treatment pill on Monday so that it can swiftly advise national drug authorities in the 27-nation bloc that want to begin using it before it gets official approval.

EU drug agency reviewing data on Merck's COVID-19 antiviral

This undated image provided by Merck & Co. shows its new COVID-19 antiviral medication. The product is currently under review by several health regulators around the world. (Merck & Co./The Associated Press)

The latest:

The European Union's medicines agency on Monday began reviewing Merck's COVID-19 treatment pill so that it can swiftly advise national drug authorities in the 27-nation bloc that want to begin using it before it gets official approval.

The European Medicines Agency said in a statement that it will give "EU-wide recommendations in the shortest possible time frame to help national authorities decide on possible early use of the medicine, for example, in emergency use settings."

The Amsterdam-based agency will give the recommendations while a comprehensive review of the pill, called molnupiravir, continues ahead of a possible application to market the drug.

Currently, most COVID-19 treatments require an IV or injection. Merck's COVID-19 pill is already under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after showing strong initial results. On Thursday, the United Kingdom became the first country to OK it.

In the U.K., the pill was approved for adults 18 and older who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have at least one risk factor for developing severe disease, such as obesity or heart disease. Patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 would take four pills of the drug twice a day for five days.

In the United States, the FDA has set a public meeting later this month to review molnupiravir. The company reported in September that its drug slashed rates of hospitalization and death by 50 per cent.

Merck has also submitted data to Health Canada.

The drug targets an enzyme the coronavirus uses to reproduce itself, inserting errors into its genetic code that slow its ability to spread and take over human cells. That genetic activity has led some independent experts to question whether the drug could potentially cause mutations leading to birth defects or tumours.

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 12:40 p.m. ET

What's happening across Canada

Need a passport? Prepare to wait in line

11 months ago
Duration 1:44
Edmontonians hoping to get a new passport are facing day-long lines at the Canada Place office, where officials are triaging applicants based on their date of travel.

Yukon's top doctor says a "rapidly escalating COVID-19 situation" is threatening the territory's health-care system and residents must take steps to control the spread.

Acting chief medical officer of health Dr. Catherine Elliott said in a statement that Yukon is at a point in the pandemic it has not seen before.

Her warning came as Yukon reported 80 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed over a three-day period between Friday and Monday, for a total of 169 active infections.

-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 9:45 p.m. ET

What's happening around the world

As of Monday evening, more than 250.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than five million.

In the Americas, the U.S. fully reopened its borders with Mexico and Canada on Monday and lifted restrictions on travel for most of Europe, setting the stage for emotional reunions nearly two years in the making and providing a boost for the travel industry decimated by the pandemic.

The restrictions, among the most severe in U.S. history, had kept families apart, including some spouses who have not been able to hug in months. Even so, there were fewer crossings at the Mexico-United States border than expected. Officials in the Mexican border city of Tijuana said people did not make the most of restrictions being lifted along the 3,200-kilometre border due to fears of being caught in traffic.

Meanwhile, Cuba is also preparing to reopen after 20 months of pandemic restrictions. Craft vendors are returning to the streets, transport between provinces is gradually returning to normal and crowds once again line the seafront Malecon boulevard in Havana. Airports will fully open on Nov. 15, and the tourism industry is expected to rebound. All travellers will be required to have complete vaccination or a negative PCR test.

Students wearing masks as a precaution put away a Cuban flag on their first day of school after months without face-to-face classes in Havana on Monday. As Cuba approaches the announced date of Nov. 15 for the reopening of the entire country to the world, getting children back to school is one of its priorities. (Ramon Espinosa/The Associated Press)

So far, Cuba has registered 956,452 infections of the novel coronavirus and 8,265 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health. The vaccination campaign, covering everyone aged two and older, has given all three scheduled doses to 7.3 million people on this island of 11 million people.

In Europe, Slovakia has expanded strict coronavirus restrictions to nearly half of the country amid a record surge of infections. Slovakia, which has a population of nearly 5.5 million people, is one of the countries in the European Union hardest hit by the pandemic. It has registered about 521,650 cases and 13,269 deaths.

Greece reported a new record high for daily COVID-19 infections on Monday as vaccination appointments shot up after new restrictions on unvaccinated people kicked in over the weekend.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa reported 205 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and 13 additional deaths.

In the Middle East, Iran on Sunday reported 7,554 new cases of COVID-19 and 126 additional deaths.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan recorded no daily deaths from COVID-19 for the first time in more than a year on Sunday, according to local media.

Australia will begin administering booster shots of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Monday as millions in its largest city, Sydney, woke up to more freedom amid an accelerating immunization drive against the coronavirus.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 7:15 p.m. ET

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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