Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world Wednesday

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The latest:

Health officials in Quebec have confirmed a first case of B1617, the coronavirus variant first detected in India. 

The variant was detected in a patient in the Mauricie–Centre-du-Québec region, between Montreal and Quebec City, according to public health.  

B1617 is known for transmitting easily and causing more severe symptoms.

Quebec on Wednesday reported 1,217 new cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 716, with 178 people in ICU.

What’s else is happening in Canada

WATCH | Ontario government criticized for ‘inconsistent policies’:

As two Ontario regions take action into their own hands to close workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks, the province’s advisors publicly criticized Premier Doug Ford’s government for its ‘inconsistent policies’ during the crisis. 2:00

As of 4:15 p.m. ET Canada had reported 1,144,908 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 87,679 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,756. 

Ontario on Wednesday reported 4,212 new cases of COVID-19 and 32 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 2,335, according to provincial data, with 790 people in ICUs due to COVID-related illness.

The Ontario government, meanwhile, has said a paid sick-leave program for essential workers was under consideration. The possible shift comes after repeated calls by public health experts to do more to protect essential workers bearing the brunt of the third wave.

Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford is in isolation after a staff member tested positive for the virus. Ford has since tested negative.

WATCH | N.L. premier reassures residents:

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey has thanked medical staff from the province who plan to help Ontario during its pandemic crisis and tried to assure his citizens that the departure of staff would not have an impact at home. 1:05

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador was the first province to report updated figures on Wednesday when health officials announced one additional case. The province is working with Ontario to send medical personnel to help in the hard-hit province, which is raising concerns from the province’s nurses’ union about nursing shortages at home. 

New Brunswick reported seven new cases and one additional death Wednesday. Health officials there are asking people to be patient as the 65+ phase of its vaccination plan rolls out

“These appointments can fill up quite quickly,” Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said Tuesday in announcing the new eligibility. “We know that the phones start ringing from the time we announce it at this press conference.”

Nova Scotia reported 25 new cases Wednesday, the highest number in five months. The news came the same day that the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada announced the women’s world championship, scheduled for May 6-16 in Halifax and Truro, would be cancelled. 

WATCH | Who’s eligible for vaccination in Manitoba?:

COVID-19 vaccines are now available to people age 50 and over, and First Nations people age 30 and over in Manitoba. Dr. Joss Reimer of the Manitoba Vaccine Task Force also emphasized the safety of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, saying the benefits far outweigh the risks. 4:30

Across the North, Nunavut on Wednesday reported one new case of COVID-19. Premier Joe Savikataaq said in a tweet there are still 33 active cases in the territory.

In the Prairie provinces, the Manitoba government is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine program to prioritize first responders, teachers and other front-line workers. Front-line police officers and firefighters of all ages are now eligible. The province reported 164 new cases Wednesday, along with one additional death. 

Health officials in Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 231 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and four additional deaths. The province continues to expand eligibility for vaccination, but says opening it up to everyone over the age of 18 by mid-May remains “a very ambitious target.” 

A mass vaccination clinic planned at a meat-packing plant in southern Alberta had to be postponed due to a delay in a shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly half the 2,200 workers at Cargill’s facility in High River, south of Calgary, contracted the coronavirus and two employees died during an outbreak there last spring. 

The province reported 1,345 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and five additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 476, with 105 of those patients in ICUs.

In British Columbia, health officials reported 849 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Tuesday. Hospitalizations stood at 456, with 148 in intensive care — representing new highs for the province.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 2:10 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

U.S. President Joe Biden says the United States plans to help Canada procure more COVID-19 vaccines.

Biden says he spoke today with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that the White House is looking at what to do with vaccines not currently in use in the U.S.

That’s likely a reference to the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot, which has been approved by Health Canada but not by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A staff member at the Guardian Snowdon Pharmacy in Toronto prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in March 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday the U.S. is working to help Canada procure more COVID-19 vaccines. (Sam Nar/CBC)

The U.S. has already provided Canada with about 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and gave 2.5 million doses to Mexico.

The president says he spoke with Trudeau today, describing him as someone who is working hard to help his country deal with the pandemic.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, more than 143.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than three million.

People wearing personal protective equipment mourn a man who died of COVID-19 at a crematorium in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

At least 22 patients died on Wednesday in a hospital in western India after a disruption to their oxygen supply caused by a leaking tank, the health minister said, as a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases soaks up supplies of the gas.

The incident in the city of Nashik, one of India’s hardest-hit areas, happened after the tank of oxygen leaked, said Rajesh Tope, the health minister of Maharashtra, the richest state, where the city is located.

“Patients who were on ventilators at the hospital in Nashik have died,” Tope said in televised remarks. “The leakage was spotted at the tank supplying oxygen to these patients. The interrupted supply could be linked to the deaths of the patients in the hospital.”

The world’s second most populous nation reported 295,041 new infections on Wednesday — the biggest daily rise reported in any country — stretching its hospitals to breaking point, officials said.

Hospitals in the capital and elsewhere have been warning that supplies of medical oxygen used for severely ill COVID-19 patients are running low as cases pour in.

An oxygen tank leaks at a hospital in Nashik, India, where COVID-19 patients died due to a lack of oxygen on Tuesday. (ANI via REUTERS)

Max Healthcare, a large private sector health-care provider in Delhi and its suburbs, said in a statement that most of the hospitals in the network “are working on dangerously low levels of oxygen supply.”

Television showed images of people with empty oxygen cylinders crowding refilling facilities in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, as they scrambled to save stricken relatives in hospital.

Health experts said India had let its guard down when the virus seemed to be under control during the winter, allowing big gatherings such as weddings and festivals.

India now faces a coronavirus “storm” overwhelming its health system, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a national address overnight, adding that authorities were working with states and private firms to deliver oxygen with “speed and sensitivity.”

Modi is himself facing criticism for addressing packed political rallies for local elections and allowing a religious festival to go ahead in which millions take a ritual bath in the river Ganges, considered sacred by Hindus.

India has so far administered nearly 130 million doses of vaccine, the most in the world after the United States and China but still small relative to its population.

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-thru vaccination service on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali on Tuesday. (Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan’s government is preparing to announce a third state of emergency in Tokyo and the western metropolitan area around Osaka following requests from local leaders who say current measures are failing to curb a rapid rise in coronavirus infections.

In Europe, German lawmakers have approved a proposal by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to mandate restrictions in areas where the coronavirus is spreading too quickly.

The legislation to apply an “emergency brake” consistently in areas with high infection rates is intended to end the patchwork of measures that has often characterized the pandemic response across highly decentralized Germany’s 16 states.

Police officers in Berlin face off with demonstrators during a protest rally on Wednesday against the German government’s policy to battle the pandemic. (Markus Schreiber/The Associated Press)

In the Americas, the White House is trying to overcome diminishing demand for COVID-19 shots by offering businesses a tax incentive to give employees paid leave to get vaccinated. The move comes as the U.S. is set to meet Biden’s goal of administering 200 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office.

With more than 50 per cent of adults at least partially vaccinated and roughly 28 million vaccine doses being delivered each week, demand has eclipsed supply as the constraining factor to vaccinations in much of the country.

In the Middle East, Syria’s last rebel-held enclave has received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, with a refrigerated truck offloading over 50,000 United Nations-secured jabs in the overcrowded province.

The delivery Wednesday came hours before a bigger shipment was expected to arrive in the capital of Damascus for inoculations in government-controlled areas. The vaccines come as the war-torn country experiences a new surge in infections, overwhelming hospitals reeling from conflict and deteriorating health-care services.

In Africa, South Africa remained the hardest-hit country, with more than 1.5 million reported cases of COVID-19 and a death toll approaching 54,000. 

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 12:55 p.m. ET

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