Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on March 31
Amid what Canada’s top doctor has deemed a “challenging” stage of the pandemic, some of the country’s most populous provinces were taking differing approaches Wednesday to battling the coronavirus cases that continue to climb in their respective regions.
Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said during a online question-and-answer session on Facebook Wednesday that Canada was in the midst of “one of the most challenging periods” of the pandemic as it works to vaccinate the population and waited for those vaccines to take hold.
Her assessment came on a day when Alberta saw its highest daily case count in 11 weeks, Quebec moved a handful of cities into lockdown and the premier of Ontario expressed concern about rising case counts and ICU admissions.
Ontario Doug Premier Ford said residents should “stay tuned” for an announcement on Thursday regarding possible restrictions.
Hours later, CBC News reported that sources say Canada’s most populous province will be put under 28 days of lockdown restrictions as of Saturday.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said his government was not considering tougher measures to combat the coronavirus.
Kenney said Alberta won’t aim to drive COVID-19 infections to zero with curfews, stay-at-home orders or widespread business closures.
“The broader cost to peoples’ lives, to their livelihoods, to our social and economic health, would be massive if we were to pursue true lockdown policies,” he said.
“We think a lot of the spread that is happening now is because people have become tired of all of this. They’ve either kind of forgotten about the guidelines or they just wished them away.”
British Columbia, meanwhile, announced its highest single-day total of cases seen throughout the pandemic.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry urged British Columbians to stay home during the long weekend and called on everyone to help curb the rising COVID-19 cases.
“Help us to push our curve back down again. Do this by staying small, staying outside and staying with your same group of close contacts. This is what will get us closer to putting COVID-19 behind us,” they said in a written statement.
‘We will lose control’
Across the Atlantic Ocean, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a series of measures aimed at pushing back the threat a third wave of COVID-19 infections posed to the country’s hospitals.
Macron on Wednesday ordered France into its third national lockdown and said schools would close for three weeks.
With the death toll nearing 100,000, intensive care units in the hardest-hit regions at breaking point and a slower-than-planned vaccine rollout, Macron was forced to abandon his goal of keeping the country open to protect the economy.
“We will lose control if we do not move now,” the president said in a televised address to the nation.
His announcement means that movement restrictions already in place for more than a week in Paris, and some northern and southern regions, will apply to the whole country for at least a month, starting Saturday.
Departing from his pledge to safeguard education from the pandemic, Macron said schools will close for three weeks after this weekend.
Macron, 43, had sought to avoid a third large-scale lockdown since the start of the year, betting that if he could steer France out of the pandemic without locking the country down again he would give the economy a chance to recover from last year’s slump.
But the former investment banker’s options narrowed as more contagious strains of the coronavirus swept across France and much of Europe.
For schoolchildren after this weekend, learning will be done remotely for a week, after which schools go on a two-week holiday, which for most of the country will be earlier than scheduled.
Thereafter, nursery and primary pupils will return to school while middle and high school pupils continue distance learning for an extra week.
“It is the best solution to slow down the virus,” Macron said, adding that France had succeeded in keeping its schools open for longer during the pandemic than many neighbours.
According to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University, France has seen more than 4.6 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and more than 95,400 deaths.
Worldwide, coronavirus cases rose for a fifth straight week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday, as counts in Africa and the Americas ticked upward after holding mostly steady for weeks.
Deaths climbed in every region except Africa. The WHO said the number of new deaths rose five per cent to more than 64,000 over the last week — a second straight weekly increase after falling or staying nearly flat for weeks.
Europe and the Americas still account for about four-fifths of all cases and deaths. The U.S. leads the world with more than 30 million coronavirus cases and nearly 551,000 deaths.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 8:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
WATCH | Uncertainty surrounds Ontario’s plan to tackle 3rd wave:
As of 8 p.m. ET, Canada had reported 982,122 cases of COVID-19, with 47,864 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,959.
Ontario on Wednesday reported 2,333 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths. Data published to a provincial dashboard put the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at 1,111, with 396 in intensive care units.
WATCH | Critical cases mount in Ontario:
Data from Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO), however, put the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in the province’s intensive care units at 421. The data posted online to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard is lower than the CCSO data because officials stop including hospitalized patients in that count when they are no longer testing positive for COVID-19.
“I’m very, very concerned to see the cases go up,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday. “I’m very concerned to see the ICU capacity.”
In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault announced that he was moving three cities, including the provincial capital, into lockdown Thursday following a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections.
Schools and non-essential businesses are to close and the curfew will move ahead to 8 p.m. from 9:30 p.m. in Quebec City, Levis and Gatineau for at least 10 days, Legault said Wednesday.
“We are very worried,” Legault said, noting that the situation continues to deteriorate in the three cities. “Today and yesterday the cases are rising almost exponentially.”
Legault said the increase is being driven by new coronavirus variants and that his government expects hospitalizations to rise rapidly in the three cities in the near future.
“We’re acting fast,” Legault said, adding he didn’t want to wait for hospitals to be overwhelmed.
All three cities had been in the orange zone, the second-highest level in Quebec’s pandemic-alert system.
The premier also announced that four regions are moving from the orange to the red alert level: Quebec City; Outaouais, across the Ottawa River from Ontario; Chaudiere-Appalaches, south of the provincial capital; and Bas-St-Laurent, northeast of Quebec City.
Health Minister Christian Dube said Quebec was also talking with Ontario to limit “communication” between Gatineau and Ottawa but said he could not be more specific.
Health officials in Quebec reported 1,025 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 485, a dashboard said, with 120 people in intensive care units.
Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon on Wednesday.
In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday.
“Let’s focus our attention on controlling what we can, protecting one another, and keeping COVID at bay,” said Dr. Janice Fitizgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, at a briefing on the virus and ongoing vaccine rollout efforts. “Hold fast, Newfoundland and Labrador.”
WATCH | Kids and COVID-19 vaccinations:
N.B. Premier Blaine Higgs was among those in his province getting vaccinated on Wednesday.
Higgs, who got a first shot of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, said he didn’t even feel the needle enter his arm. The N.B. premier said if he was going to advise people to get the vaccine, he had to be comfortable getting one himself.
“Everyone is tired of COVID and we want to get opened up to the rest of the country,” Higgs said. “We can’t do that unless we get vaccinated up to the 75 per cent level.”
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 71 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and one additional death.
On Wednesday, 191 new cases and two additional deaths were reported in Saskatchewan.
A day earlier, Premier Scott Moe urged people to be “very diligent” in following public health orders and called on all eligible people to make an appointment to get their vaccine.
WATCH | Worries grow about Regina’s outbreak:
“I believe that we will be able to get our case numbers under control in the few communities where they’re increasing without further … restrictions, but we all need to do our part,” Moe said.
In Alberta, health officials reported 871 new cases — the highest single-day total in 11 weeks — and three additional deaths on Wednesday.
British Columbia reported 1,013 new daily cases on Wednesday and three additional deaths. It was the province’s highest single-day number of new cases of COVID-19 to date.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 8:30 p.m. ET.
What’s happening around the world
As of early Wednesday evening more than 128.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.8 million.
Japan is the latest nation calling for further investigation into the origins of COVID-19, saying the report released this week at a WHO briefing was based on work that faced delays and lacked access to essential virus samples.
“In order to prevent future pandemics, it is indispensable to carry out prompt, independent and experts-led investigations that are free of surveillance,” chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters. “We are concerned that the latest investigation faced delays and the lack of access to virus samples.”
The report was released Tuesday after experts travelled to Wuhan, China, the city where illnesses from the coronavirus were first detected in late 2019.
China has touted its co-operation with WHO and warned that attempts to politicize the matter would cost lives. The U.S. and other countries say the WHO report lacked crucial information, access and transparency and further study was warranted.
Kato called for additional investigation and analysis and said Japan will encourage WHO to consider additional investigation inside China.
WATCH | How exactly did COVID-19 begin?:
Front Burner23:53How, exactly did COVID-19 begin?
“We will further co-operate with other countries in carrying out additional studies that are still necessary,” Kato said.
The report said the virus most likely came from bats and spread to an unidentified mammal before being transmitted to people.
In the Middle East, Yemen has received a first batch of coronavirus vaccines from the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative.The shipment of 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine has landed in the port city of Aden on Wednesday, in co-ordination with WHO and UNICEF, the two UN agencies said in a statement.
The doses have come amid a “dramatic influx” of critically ill COVID-19 patients in Yemen as a second wave of the pandemic overwhelms the country’s depleted medical facilities, according to Doctors Without Borders.
The shipment, produced by the Serum Institute in India, is the first batch of 1.9 million doses that Yemen will initially receive throughout 2021, it said. Yemen has reported more than 3,800 infectious cases and 810 confirmed deaths.
In the Americas, Ecuador’s health system is under severe strain from a spike in COVID-19 and some hospitals in the capital Quito are working above capacity to treat patients, doctors said on Tuesday.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said Wednesday that countries in the Americas could see a worse surge in coronavirus cases than the previous surge last year, with Brazil, Uruguay and Cuba already suffering more.
Director Carissa Etienne said the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer, following holidays where people grouped together and spread cases, had prompted spikes. She urged citizens to stay at home and governments to think hard before lowering movement restrictions.
So far this year, more than 19.7 million COVID cases and 475,000 related deaths have been reported in the Americas, she said.
Vaccines are rolling out — 124 million people have received one dose and 58 million have received two, PAHO said.
In Africa, South Africa on Tuesday more than doubled the number of people who can gather indoors for Easter religious services because COVID-19 transmission remains relatively low.
In Europe, Poland reported its highest number of deaths related to COVID-19 so far this year on Wednesday, as concern mounts that the health system is cracking under the strain of the pandemic’s third wave.
Spain has decided to extend AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccination to essential workers over 65 years old to protect a small group of people who have not yet retired, the health ministry said on Wednesday.
Italy’s government said Wednesday that all health workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Wednesday’s decree approved by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s cabinet said health workers, including pharmacists, “are required to undergo vaccination.” Those who refuse could be suspended without pay for the rest of the year.
“The aim of the measure is to protect as much as possible both medical and paramedical staff and those who are in environments that may be more exposed to the risk of infection,” the government said in a statement.
In Belgium, hospitals have been ordered to reserve 60 per cent of their intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients as a third wave of infections takes hold, doctors said on Wednesday.
With the resurgent pandemic ravaging Europe, Belgium, home to NATO and the European Union, already has one of the world’s highest per capita death rates and Prime Minister Alexander de Croo has warned of a breakdown of its health system.
In the Asia-Pacific region, China carried out about 3.7 million vaccinations on March 30, bringing the total number administered to 114.69 million, according to data released by the National Health Commission on Tuesday.
The southwestern Chinese city of Ruili that borders Myanmar ordered a one-week home quarantine for residents of the city’s urban area, as well as mass COVID-19 testing after six new locally transmitted cases were reported.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 5:15 p.m. ET