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Canada monitoring spread of coronavirus variants, says chief public health officer

The latest:

Canada’s chief public health officer says the federal government is closely monitoring the spread of coronavirus variants that have been discovered in the country.

“Given the recent emergence of COVID-19 virus variants of concern, which appear to be associated with an increased risk of spread, [the Public Health Agency of Canada] has been working with provinces, territories and international partners to enhance monitoring for the presence of any virus variants in Canada,” Dr. Theresa Tam said on Saturday.

Tam said that provinces and territories have so far reported 14 cases of a new strain that was first reported in the U.K. and one case of a new variant first reported in South Africa.

Canada’s first case of the new variant initially found in South Africa was reported on Friday, in a traveller who recently returned to Alberta.

WATCH | What scientists know about the new coronavirus variant:


The B1-17 coronavirus variant, first discovered in the U.K., is now in at least 40 countries, including Canada. It has 23 mutations, including one that attaches to healthy cells like a key going into a lock. 1:56

The country’s first cases of the variant found in Britain were first reported by Ontario health officials in late December. They said the individuals in question had been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K.

“Given these virus variants have been reported in multiple countries, the Government of Canada continues to advise Canadians against non-essential travel outside of Canada,” Tam said.

What’s happening across Canada

As of 5:45 p.m. ET, Canada had reported 652,473 cases of COVID-19, with 82,252 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 16,833

In British Columbia, Castlegar Mayor Bruno Tassone has resigned after he and his family travelled to the Mount Baldy ski resort in the Okanagan — about 200 kilometres west of Castlegar — during the holidays, despite provincial guidelines against non-essential travel. 

Alberta announced 989 new COVID-19 cases and 31 new deaths on Saturday.

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A police officer wears a face mask during a funeral service for Calgary Police Service Sgt. Andrew Harnett in Calgary on Saturday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan registered 332 new cases and seven additional deaths.

Manitoba saw 203 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths. 

Meanwhile, the province expanded the COVID-19 immunization eligibility criteria to include professionals who work in emergency response services born on or before Dec. 31, 1975.

Ontario reported 3,443 cases on Saturday, including 1,070 in Toronto, 548 in Peel Region, 303 in York Region, 282 in Windsor-Essex County and 179 in Ottawa.

The education minister said Saturday the province is expanding the list of essential workers eligible to receive free child care during the time school is taught remotely.

Stephen Lecce says Canada Post staff, workers with the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency, and workers with homeless shelters and children’s aid societies are among those on the expanded list.

WATCH | Ontario sees record high COVID-19 ICU admissions:


Ontario’s premier calls it a desperate situation. The number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs have broken records four days running. Officials say it will get worse. Now hospitals are beginning to call for curfews as they scramble to find space for the sick. 4:13

In Quebec, resident out in the streets after 8 p.m. on Saturday can expect to be questioned by police as a month-long curfew comes into effect to control the spread of COVID-19.

The province announced earlier this week that the curfew will be in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., except for those who fall into certain exempted categories, such as essential workers.

Meanwhile, the province reported 3,127 new cases on Saturday and 41 more deaths. 

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People wear face masks as they walk along a street prior to a curfew in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Newfoundland and Labrador registered no new cases for the fourth straight day, and its active caseload dropped to four after five people recovered.

New Brunswick recorded 30 new cases, bringing the total number of active cases to 171. The province has experienced a surge in cases in the new year, reporting 164 new cases in nine days.

Nova Scotia announced it is tightening border restrictions with New Brunswick following the outbreak of cases there. Meanwhile, N.S. reported three new cases on Saturday.

In Prince Edward Island, pharmacists say they’ve been in talks with the premier’s office and may be distributing and administering vaccines come spring.

What’s happening around the world

As of Saturday, more than 89.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 49.5 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 case tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.9 million.

WATCH | WHO says new U.K. studies confirm variant more transmissible:


The World Health Organization says a third round of U.K. studies related to a variant of the coronavirus in Britain confirms it is more transmissible and also that infected people have a higher viral load than with the original virus. 1:59

In Europe, the British government reported Saturday that the number of confirmed deaths has reached 80,868, the most in Europe and the world’s fifth-highest pandemic death toll. Official data also show that the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom has exceeded three million.

Hospitals around the U.K. are under heavy pressure treating COVID-19 patients. London’s mayor declared the capital’s pandemic situation to be critical on Friday.

WATCH | U.K. cases still high despite national lockdown:


Record-high COVID-19 counts were reported in the United Kingdom on the third day of a national lockdown that includes school closures. More than 68,000 new cases were recorded and another 1,325 deaths. 1:55

In Asia, the Chinese government closed places of worship, and authorities restricted access to a highway to Shijiazhuang, which is battling a new cluster of infections.

Shijiazhuang — the capital of Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing — suspended service on the city’s subway, then extended the ban to all public transport, including taxis. The province entered a “wartime mode” this week to battle the infections.

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A nearly-empty train platform is seen in Shijiazhuang, China, on Saturday. (cnsphoto via Reuters)

In Africa, South African scientists are testing whether vaccines will be less effective against a COVID-19 variant first detected locally and hope for initial results within two weeks, a professor at the national communicable disease institute said.

The variant, known as 501Y.V2, was identified by South African genomics experts late last year and is thought to be more contagious than older variants. The variant has driven a resurgence in infections in South Africa, taking total cases to more than 1.17 million — the most on the continent — and sending daily new cases to a peak of more than 21,000 this week.

virus outbreak south africa testing
A health-care worker conducts a COVID-19 test at a drive-thru site in Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday. (Nardus Engelbrecht/The Associated Press)

In the Americas, Argentina issued a decree on empowering provinces to restrict nighttime activities in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19, with authorities concerned about a new wave of cases being caused by Southern Hemisphere summer vacationers.

TV images have been filled with packed beaches and outdoor parties, with many people not wearing masks or observing physical-distancing guidelines. Argentina began an early and strict quarantine in March, but it was later made more flexible in part to help an economy, which has been in recession since 2018.

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