- Coronavirus tracker: Follow the spread of COVID-19 as cases rise in much of Canada.
- Quebec enters new phase as curfew begins Saturday night.
- Federal government continues to be pressed by provinces about vaccine supply.
- Canadian, American monthly jobs reports weaker than expected.
- Read more: Northwest Territories officials have plans to combat vaccine hesitancy as Moderna doses become available; some politicians rail over prisoners getting vaccinated, but the issue will need to be confronted, writes CBC’s Aaron Wherry.
Doug Ford calls COVID-19 modelling for Ontario ‘dire’ as province sets daily case record
Ontario Premier Doug Ford held a rare morning news conference Friday, where he again asked Ontarians to follow public health guidelines. The premier said new modelling coming early next week will paint a potentially dire scenario in the province.
“We’re in a desperate situation, and when you see the modelling, you’ll fall out of your chair,” Ford said. “There will be further measures, because this is getting out of control.”
A memo from Ontario Health obtained by CBC News earlier this week indicates hospitals are being told to prepare to activate emergency plans immediately.
In a memo dated Thursday and obtained by CBC News, hospitals that have intensive care space available were told by Ontario Health to reserve one-third of those beds for transfers from hospitals that have no more ICU capacity.
The province reported a record 4,249 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, although 450 cases were attributable to a data upload delay from Toronto Public Health. There were 26 more reported deaths, pushing the pandemic-long total in the province to 4,882 people.
Ontario’s seven-day average was pushed to 3,394 cases per day, the most at any point during the pandemic. The current COVID-19 test positivity rate is 6.2 per cent.
Meanwhile, Ontario will allow those who are pregnant or breastfeeding to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to new recommendations obtained by CBC News on Friday. The recommendations mark a shift from the province’s previous policy that hindered access to those individuals.
A Ministry of Health memo dated Jan. 7 on vaccine recommendations for special populations reads that people who are pregnant “may choose to receive the vaccine after informed counselling and consent.”
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Quebec enters new phase as curfew begins Saturday night
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s health director, acknowledged this week there is no hard scientific evidence to support a curfew’s effectiveness.
But nevertheless, given the concerning case numbers and hospitalizations this winter in the province, Quebecers will face a curfew beginning Saturday and running for four weeks between the hours of 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Anybody caught outside between the hours without a valid reason could face a fine of up to $6,000.
Such an extreme measure takes its toll. In France, where some regions have been under lockdown since mid-October, a curfew has narrowed the scope of people’s lives.
“It’s sleep, work, sleep,” Catherine Dumas, a Quebecer living in the suburbs of Paris, told Radio-Canada. “There are no other times of the day to enjoy, as we are confined to the house. It’s starting to get heavy. We can’t wait for it to end.”
Dr. Joanne Liu, the former international president of Doctors Without Borders, said a curfew will hopefully get the attention of those who have grown weary of physical distancing rules.
In an interview, Liu said a key question is whether a curfew will help persuade the minority who don’t take the virus seriously to adhere to the rules.
“It’s a bit like going into an election. You know that you have some supporters and they will continue to support you throughout. You’re trying to get the people in the middle,” said Liu, a pediatric physician in Montreal who also serves on the International Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.
Liu cautioned it will take several weeks for the restrictions to show any impact on the daily numbers.
Ottawa promises to ‘scale up’ deliveries of vaccines amid complaints
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday repeated the federal government’s commitment to vaccinating every Canadian who wants a shot by the end of September. To meet that goal, the country will have to administer roughly 100,000 doses a day for the next 265 days if it’s going to vaccinate every adult in Canada.
That ambitious target also depends on Health Canada approving other promising vaccine candidates, like those from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, sometime this year.
Recent days have seen conflicting viewpoints between federal officials and provinces like Ontario and Saskatchewan as to the supply of vaccines.
Toronto’s University Health Network, which has been busy inoculating long-term care workers and health-care providers since Dec. 15, said Friday it was already out of doses.
“I have spoken with the CEOs of both [vaccine] companies this week already, and I will continue to engage with them, as will my department, to move up doses from Q3 to Q2, from Q2 to Q1,” Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said, referring to the quarters of the calendar year.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics for the Public Health Agency of Canada, offered new numbers today on how many doses will be received early this year. All told, Canada is expected to receive four million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech product and two million Moderna shots by the end of March — enough to vaccinate three million people.
Canada lags behind the U.S. on a per capita basis in terms of vaccinations completed, although the country is ahead of several other developed countries, including a few like Japan that haven’t started to inoculate its citizens.
Canadian, American monthly jobs reports weaker than expected
Canada’s economy lost 63,000 jobs last month, the first time the job market has contracted since the dark days of March and April, when COVID-19 was just starting.
Statistics Canada reported Friday the jobless rate came in at 8.6 per cent, a slight uptick from the previous month. It was 5.6 per cent last February, before COVID-19, and peaked at 13.7 in May. Economists had been expecting the monthly numbers to be rough, since big provinces such as Ontario and Quebec went into strict lockdowns during the month.
But the number ended up being almost twice as bad as the 39,000-job drop that a consensus of economists polled by Bloomberg were expecting. It’s also the first drop in the monthly tabulation since April.
Leah Nord with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce was especially concerned with the fact that the participation rate — the number of working age people who either have a job or want one — fell by 0.2 percentage points to 64.9 per cent.
The drop “mostly comprised of male youth and working women, likely frustrated by the job search and staying home to take care of suddenly homebound children, respectively,” she said.
If that trend continues, that’s a bad omen for the job market from here on out, Nord said.
Canada’s numbers for December are broadly in line with the U.S., where the job number on Friday was also about twice as bad as expected, at 140,000 jobs lost in the final month of 2020. Experts there had generally forecast a gain of tens of thousands of jobs.
Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shots can be given up to 6 weeks apart, WHO says
World Health Organization experts on Friday issued recommendations that the interval between administration of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus can be extended to up to six weeks “on the basis of currently available clinical trial data.”
WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization, known as SAGE, formally published its advice after a full review of that vaccine. It said an interval of 21 to 28 days between the doses is recommended, but it also noted that “a number of countries face exceptional circumstances of vaccine supply constraints combined with a high disease burden.”
The body acknowledged that some have been considering delaying the administration of a second dose as a way to broaden initial coverage, which appears to be the way the incoming U.S. administration is heading, according to a report on Friday. The WHO advisers said this “pragmatic approach” could be considered as a response to “exceptional epidemiological circumstances.”
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and a member of Ontario’s vaccine task force, told CBC News on Friday that, ideally, the three- to four-week schedule is followed.
“Changing the dosing schedule shouldn’t be a rescue measure for not having administered all your vaccines, so that should be the priority: as many doses in as many arms in a short a period of time as possible,” said Bogoch.
But, Bogoch said, “if it’s extended a little bit, it ain’t the end of the world, as long as people got those two doses.”
Meanwhile, Pfizer said its vaccine with BioNTech appeared to work against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus discovered in Britain and South Africa, according to a laboratory study they conducted with scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Should churches be able to keep their doors open during the pandemic?
The Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing a number of Ontario pastors and church elders who have been charged for holding church services in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.
Centre lawyer Lisa Bildy spoke with Rebecca Zandbergen of CBC’s London Morning about representing a number of places of worship, including the Church of God in Aylmer, Ont. The church was issued a summons by police for a service held on Dec. 27.
Bildy said her organization is dedicated to defending civil liberties under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The issue is that the government has to justify that the measures that it’s taking are proportionate, that they are a minimal impairment of those rights and that there’s a balancing act that has to happen,” Bildy said. “They haven’t been put to the test to do that. If you’re charging these people, we’re going to court and we’re going to make the argument that you have to prove that these measures are proportionate and reasonable and justified.”
Religious leaders and faith groups have been forced to adjust during the pandemic, with online and drive-in services having taken place across Canada.
But, Bildy argues, religious gatherings are “a very participatory experience for a lot of faith communities.”
“They have communions, they have baptisms, they have various rites where they need to be together in person,” she told London Morning. “Some of our clients are Mennonites and they’re not online very much or at all, so their churches are their lifeline.”
Drive-in services also don’t work on the Sabbath for members of the Orthodox Jewish faith, she said.
Bildy said her organization is committed to what she suspect will be a lengthy process in the courts.
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