Ontario will move the southwestern region of Sarnia-Lambton into lockdown on Monday after a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, making it the fifth region to be under maximum restrictions in the province’s coronavirus response framework.
The government says it’s making the move in consultation with the region’s medical officer of health. According to a release from the province, Lambton Public Health’s case rate increased by 30.9 per cent, to 110.0 cases per 100,000 people, from March 3 to 9, “well above the provincial average.”
During the same period of time, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region have increased by 33.3 per cent, the province says.
The province also says it will move the Northwestern Health unit into the second-strictest “red” category of Ontario’s colour-coded pandemic framework. The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit will move into the “yellow” category.
WATCH | Ontario facing surge due to variants, expert says:
The province is also adjusting capacity limits for weddings, funerals and religious services, rites or ceremonies held in regions currently in the lockdown category, which include Toronto, Peel Region and the districts of Sudbury and Thunder Bay.
Effective Monday, those gatherings will be permitted to allow for up to 15 per cent total occupancy indoors, or up to 50 people outdoors.
“While the data shows that Ontario’s vaccine rollout is helping to save lives, the next few months are critical,” said Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health, in the province’s release.
“We all must remain vigilant and continue following public health advice and measures to prevent transmission, as variants of concern are continuing to become more prevalent throughout the province and threaten to undo all of the positive gains we have all worked so hard to achieve.”
A new dashboard from the province’s Science Advisory Table on Thursday tracks information about variants of concern in the province — including information about new cases linked back to those variants and the reproduction number.
Ontario reported 1,371 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 18 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 676, with 282 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
Meanwhile, it was a second consecutive day of record-high vaccinations, with 43,503 doses administered yesterday. A total of 1,062,910 doses of vaccine have been administered in the province so far.
– From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 903,238 cases of COVID-19, with 30,781 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,404.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, tweeted before a briefing that as of Thursday evening, health officials had reported a total of 2,986 variant of concern cases, including:
- 2,728 cases of the B117 variant first identified in the U.K.
- 215 cases of the B1351 variant first reported in South Africa.
- 43 cases of the P1 variant first reported in tourists from Brazil.
According to Tam, the variant numbers have been highest in “Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, respectively.”
Separately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he’s uneasy with the idea of a national program to document vaccination status as it could marginalize people who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t get a vaccine.
WATCH | Criticisms and challenges of Ottawa’s handling of the pandemic:
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, as did Newfoundland and Labrador. New Brunswick reported three new cases and one additional death. Prince Edward Island reported no new cases.
In Quebec, health officials reported 753 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 550, with 106 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
The update came a day after Premier François Legault on Thursday praised essential workers for their efforts and urged people to remember the lives lost in the pandemic — more than 10,500 in Quebec alone.
“We lost grandmothers, grandfathers, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, and today, Quebec remembers these people that left us too soon,” he said at an event marking the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic.
LIVES REMEMBERED: There will be no return to ‘normal’ for families of more than 22,000 Canadians who lost their lives in COVID-19 pandemic, says Simar Anand, who lost his father:
Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories on Friday.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 104 new cases of COVID-19 and one new death on Friday, which was the one-year anniversary of the first cases of coronavirus in the province. This is the first time in more than three weeks that Manitoba has had a daily case count above 100.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan reported 176 new cases and three new deaths. The province is recommending that residents of Regina and area, particularly those older than 50, limit interactions with others amid an increase in community transmission of variants of concern in the region.
Meanwhile, Alberta reported 425 new cases and two new deaths, as the province continued to lower the age range of those able to get COVID-19 vaccinations in a staggered rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Albertans who don’t have a severe chronic illness.
There were two new groups eligible to book on Friday: all Albertans born in 1959 and 1960, and all First Nations, Métis and Inuit born in 1974 and 1975.
In British Columbia, health officials announced 648 new cases on Friday, the highest number since Jan. 7, but no additional deaths.
The update comes a day after the provincial health officer said she is now allowing up to 10 people to meet outdoors after nearly four months of restrictions that barred in-person gatherings between people from different households.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said restrictions on indoor gatherings and rules for restaurants, bars, retail stores and other venues remain in place.
– From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
WATCH | Benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweigh risks, experts say:
A World Health Organization expert advisory committee is currently looking at the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine after some countries paused distribution of it, but there is no reason not to use it, a spokesperson for the committee said on Friday.
Health authorities in several countries, including Denmark, Norway and Iceland, have suspended the use of the vaccine following reports of the formation of blood clots in some people who have been vaccinated.
WATCH | WHO committee probes issues with AstraZeneca shot:
Margaret Harris told a briefing that it was an “excellent vaccine” and that no causal relationship had been established between the shot and the health problems reported, calling the pause in use “a precautionary measure.”
“It’s very important to understand that, yes, we should continue to be using the AstraZeneca vaccine,” she said.WHO’s global advisory committee on vaccine safety is currently reviewing the reports and will report on its findings, as it does with any safety issues, she said.
“It is very important we are hearing safety signals because if we were not hearing about safety signals, that would suggest there is not enough review and vigilance,” Harris said.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is the main shot in the early phase of COVAX, a WHO-led global vaccine-sharing scheme that aims to distribute two billion doses this year, ensuring access for poorer countries.
Health Canada said on Thursday that it is aware of the reports out of Europe and “would like to reassure Canadians that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh its risks.”
“At this time, there is no indication that the vaccine caused these events,” Health Canada said. “To date, no adverse events related to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, or the version manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, have been reported to Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada.”
WHO data shows that more than 268 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from various developers have been administered worldwide, and no deaths have been found to have been caused by them, Harris said.
Separately, WHO on Friday approved the emergency listing of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, giving its seal of approval to expedite use, especially in countries with weaker regulatory agencies.
It is the third COVID-19 vaccine after the two-shot regimens of Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford to receive backing from the WHO, and the first requiring just a single injection.
Asked about the timing of emergency listings for China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech vaccines, Harris said reviews were now underway and approval would “probably” be given this month.
“We would expect by the end of March,” she said.
WATCH | WHO official discusses advantages of Johnson & Johnson vaccine:
The European Medicines Agency, meanwhile, said product information for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine should be updated to note that cases of severe allergic reactions have been reported. The suggested update is based on a review of 41 reported cases of anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reactions, that were identified among 5 million people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
In a statement on Friday, the Amsterdam-based EU regulator said it concluded that “a link to the vaccine was likely in at least some of these cases.”
Such allergic reactions are a recognized rare side effect to numerous vaccines and have been reported for other COVID-19 vaccines, including the one made by Pfizer-BioNTech. The EMA authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in all adults across its 27 member countries in late January.
The agency also said it is reviewing whether COVID-19 shots made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca might be causing low levels of blood platelets in some patients, a condition that could lead to bruising and bleeding.
As of Friday evening, more than 118.9 million people around the world had reported having COVID-19, according to a tracking tool maintained by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. Of those, more than 67.3 million were listed as recovered. The global death toll stood at more than 2.6 million.
In Europe, Germany’s health minister said the country should prepare for “several very challenging weeks” amid a rise in coronavirus cases. Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Friday that “the situation remains tense,” as the country’s disease control centre reported 12,834 newly confirmed cases in the past day, and 252 new COVID-related deaths.
The head of the agency, Lothar Wieler, said Germany is “at the beginning of the third wave” of infections following surges in cases last spring and in the fall.
Spahn noted there has been a drop in serious illnesses and deaths among the elderly, as most people over 80 in Germany have now received a virus vaccine. He said Germany has managed to administer more than 200,000 first shots daily this week. As more supplies arrive, shots will be administered not just in special vaccine centres but, from mid-April, also in doctors’ practices, said Spahn.
In Africa, South Africa’s health minister has said the country’s rollout goals for vaccinations may need to be changed because of supply issues. The country had aimed to have 65 per cent of people vaccinated by the end of the year, the Mail & Guardian reported. The mass rollout effort is still set to begin in April, Dr. Zweli Mkhize said — though he did not offer a firm date.
Mozambique, meanwhile, expects to receive 1.7 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines by May from various bilateral sources.
In the Asia-Pacific region, India has registered its worst single-day jump in coronavirus cases since late December with 23,285. The sharp spike is being attributed to the western state of Maharashtra.
India has so far reported more than 11.3 million cases, the world’s second-highest after the United States. Infections have been falling steadily since a peak in late September, but experts say increased public gatherings and laxity is leading to the latest surge.
The increase is being reported in six states, including Maharashtra where authorities have announced a weeklong lockdown in the densely populated Nagpur city next week. The vaccinations there will continue.
Mayors have decided to reimpose a seven-hour night curfew in the Philippine capital region of more than 12 million people amid a spike in infections, which forced dozens of villages back under police-enforced lockdowns.
Authorities would enforce the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for two weeks starting Monday in Metropolitan Manila, where most cases in a new surge of infections have been reported this week, said Benhur Abalos, who heads the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
In the Americas, U.S. deaths from COVID-19 are on the decline after weeks of hovering around 2,000 daily deaths, with the figure now dropping to about 1,400 lives lost each day.
“I am encouraged by these data but we must remain vigilant,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at Friday’s White House briefing.
WATCH | COVID-19 cases climb in India:
Public health experts say it’s too soon to say, definitively, what’s driving declines since the surge — but they suspect a post-holiday drop in travel and indoor gatherings, widespread mask wearing and the vaccine rollout have all contributed.
Brazil’s federal government says it has reached a deal to purchase 10 million doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, though the shot has yet to be approved by the South American nation’s health agency.
Health officials have warned that hospitals in Brazil’s main cities are reaching capacity, which triggered tighter restrictions on Thursday in the country’s most populous state.
In the Middle East, Iran remained the hardest-hit country, with more than 1.7 million recorded cases of the virus and a death toll of more than 61,000.
– From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6 p.m. ET