Ontario announced a provincewide “shutdown” to combat a spike in coronavirus cases amid a third wave of infections on Thursday, while Alberta confirmed it, too, was dealing with a third round of pandemic challenges.
On Thursday afternoon, Premier Jason Kenney called on Albertans to follow public health measures to stay safe during the Easter weekend and beyond.
“The fact is, all of our leading indicators are telling us that we are now in a significant new wave of COVID-19,” Kenney said. “How bad that wave will be is up to all of us. How many hundreds or thousands of people it sends to hospitals, how many surgeries it forces us to cancel and how many lives it takes is all up to the decisions that we make now.”
Hours earlier, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a series of restrictions that will come into effect for Canada’s most-populous province on Saturday and which will last at least four weeks.
The government is asking Ontarians to limit trips outside the home to necessities such as food, medication and other essential services, but stopped short of imposing a stay-at-home order like it did in January. Retail stores will see limits on capacity while restaurants will be restricted to takeout, delivery and drive-thru service.
WATCH | Quebec response to spike in cases:
The government has said schools will also remain open because they are crucial to the mental health of students.
A day earlier, Quebec Premier François Legault also referenced the third COVID-19 wave, as he announced tighter rules for three cities — Quebec City, Gatineau and Lévis — that were due to come into effect on Thursday.
Quebec on Thursday reported 1,271 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 487, with 119 people in the province’s intensive care units (ICUs), according to a provincial dashboard.
Health officials in Ontario reported 2,557 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 23 additional deaths. According to data released by the province to the public, hospitalizations stood at 1,116, with 433 people listed as being in ICUs.
Figures from Critical Care Services Ontario posted on Twitter by the president of the Ontario Hospital Association Thursday morning put the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care at 430. (Provincial officials have previously said the data published to the dashboard doesn’t include cases in which patients are no longer testing positive for COVID-19.)
WATCH | Ontario ICUs under pressure:
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:50 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 987,924 cases of COVID-19, with 49,454 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,002.
The Public Health Agency of Canada reported Thursday that nearly 15 per cent of adult Canadians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Health officials in Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. Premier Iain Rankin announced that people aged 70 and older can now book for the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, health officials reported one new travel-related case of COVID-19 on Thursday.
In New Brunswick, health officials reported 10 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, while Prince Edward Island reported a single new case.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 59 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and two additional deaths.
In neighbouring Saskatchewan, health officials reported 199 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and no additional deaths.
In Alberta, health officials reported 875 new COVID-19 cases and four additional deaths on Thursday.
In British Columbia, health officials reported five additional deaths Thursday and 832 new COVID-19 cases.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry urged British Columbians to avoid travel over the coming holiday weekend.
“This is not the time for any of us to be travelling for leisure or vacation or getaways outside of our community. Travel is still very high risk for all of us,” she said.
Across the North on Thursday, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut nor the Northwest Territories. Yukon did not have any new cases to report on Thursday, but a case was reported overnight on Wednesday.
WATCH | Alberta doctor says tighter measures needed:
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 9:05 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of late Thursday, more than 129 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a coronavirus tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.8 million.
The COVAX facility, which is a key part of the effort to get COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income countries, faces a “serious challenge” to meet demand, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday.
“Last week, I made an urgent request to countries, with doses of COVID-19 vaccines that have WHO Emergency Use Listing, to share 10 million doses immediately with COVAX,” he said. “I requested manufacturers to help ensure that the countries that step up can rapidly donate those doses. This challenge has been heard but we’re yet to receive commitments for these doses. I’m still hopeful that some forward looking and enlightened leaders will step up.”
Tedros’s remarks came after Pfizer said its vaccine continues to show efficacy against COVID-19 up to six months later. The drug company and its German partner, BioNTech, announced updated results Thursday from their ongoing late-stage study of more than 44,000 volunteers.
The companies said the vaccine showed efficacy of 91 per cent against symptomatic disease and was even more effective in preventing severe disease. Of 927 confirmed COVID-19 cases detected through March 13, 77 were among people who received the vaccine and 850 were among people who got dummy shots.
There were no serious safety concerns and the vaccine also appeared to work against a variant first detected in South Africa, the companies said.
This week, the companies said the vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, based on a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers.
In Africa, Nigeria hopes to receive up to 70 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this year through the African Union, its primary health-care chief told Reuters, amid concerns about delayed deliveries of AstraZeneca shots.
Egypt received 854,400 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as part of the global COVAX agreement, the health ministry said.
In Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said Thursday that immunization campaigns against COVID-19 in European nations had been “unacceptably slow” to date and risk prolonging the pandemic.
Kluge said vaccines “present our best way out of this pandemic,” but noted that to date, only 10 per cent of Europe’s population has received one dose and only four per cent have been fully protected with two doses.
“As long as coverage remains low, we need to apply the same public health and social measures as we have in the past, to compensate for delayed schedules,” Kluge said.
In Germany, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot, a signal of confidence in the vaccine after the country restricted its use in people under 60. The presidential office said the 65-year-old Steinmeier received his first shot at a Berlin hospital on Thursday.
In Belgium, police used tear gas and water cannons on Thursday to disperse thousands of young people who gathered in a Brussels park for a party in defiance of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown, an event that began as an April Fool’s joke on Facebook.
Belgium entered a third COVID-19 lockdown last weekend, with groups limited to four people meeting outside, but this week’s sunny weather had already brought thousands out to the park.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong will resume administering the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday following a 12-day suspension over packaging defects detected in one batch, officials said.
India opened up its coronavirus inoculation program to people above 45 as infections surge, in a move that will delay vaccine exports from the world’s biggest vaccine maker.
South Korea is reviewing whether to approve rapid coronavirus tests that can be taken at home and produce near-immediate results as another tool to fight the pandemic.
Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said Thursday there’s a need to provide convenient and accessible tests that people can use regularly because the virus is often transmitted by people with no or mild symptoms.
Health officials in China say six more people have become ill with COVID-19 in a southwestern Chinese city on the border with Myanmar. That brings the confirmed total in the Yunnan province city of Ruili over the past two days to 12, including three Myanmar citizens.
In the Middle East, Israel plans to administer the Pfizer vaccine to adolescents upon FDA approval, the health minister said.
In the Americas, Brazil health regulator Anvisa said it approved emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while it rejected a request from the government to import doses of Covaxin, citing a lack of safety data and documentation.
Also Thursday, WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a briefing that a number of states in Brazil, which saw more than 66,000 coronavirus-related deaths in March, are in critical condition and hospitals are overwhelmed, with many intensive care units more than 90 per cent full.
Chile closed its borders and tightened an already strict lockdown further Thursday to slow the spread of the coronavirus and stop the influx of contagious new variants as cases climbed past one million despite one of the world’s fastest vaccination rates.
The dramatic move came as hospitals warned they were close to saturation with victims of the disease who are middle-aged and younger as cases have spiked in recent weeks following the Southern Hemisphere summer holidays.
Chile struck early deals with vaccine makers Pfizer and Sinovac and has already vaccinated more than 35 per cent of its population, ranking it third in the world for inoculations per capita, according to a Reuters tally.
But a second wave hit before the country could reach a goal of herd immunity by July.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:15 p.m. ET