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

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The latest:

The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases has surpassed 20 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, as officials race to vaccinate millions of Americans but have come off to a slow start.

The United States exceeded the mark Friday, less than a week after it reached 19 million cases. That’s nearly twice as many as the No. 2 country, India, and nearly a quarter of the more than 83 million cases globally.

COVID-19 deaths are also surging in the U.S., totalling over 347,000. In California, where infections have been racing out of control for weeks, a single-day record of 585 coronavirus deaths was reported on the first day of the new year.

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney assailed the slow pace of vaccinations in a statement on Friday, saying it’s “incomprehensible” and “inexcusable” that the Trump administration has not developed an efficient federal vaccination model for the states.

Romney said it was unrealistic to assume that health-care workers already overburdened caring for COVID-19 patients could carry the brunt of the vaccination program, or that the big drugstore chains would have the workers to inoculate millions.

WATCH | U.S. COVID-19 vaccine delivery lagging:

Delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine has been slower than planned across the U.S. — only two million doses given of the 20 million that had been projected by the end of the year — but demand has been high with some waiting hours in line to get a jab. 2:02

Among his sweeping vaccination proposal, Romney suggested that public health authorities seek to enlist all retired or active medical professionals who are not otherwise engaged in care, as well as veterinarians, combat medics, medical students and first responders, in the effort.

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee called for action after it emerged that 2.8 million Americans had received their first dose, far short of the 20 million the Trump administration promised by the end of 2020.

The states and localities, already hammered by the months-long fight against the outbreak and its economic fallout, only recently received federal money for vaccinations under the latest relief passage signed into law on Sunday.

WATCH | Americans ring in 2021 with mix of hope, fear about pandemic:

The U.S. may have COVID-19 vaccines, but with the slow pace of the rollout, the explosive pace of infections and growing evidence of a new variant, Americans spend New Year’s Eve perched on the edge of hope and fear. 2:02

Amid surging case counts, Florida health authorities late Thursday reported finding evidence of the latest U.S. case of the new and apparently more contagious coronavirus strain first seen in England, saying it was detected in a man with no recent travel history.

The case, disclosed in a Florida Health Department statement tweeted on its HealthyFla site, comes after reports in recent days of two individual cases of the new strain of COVID-19 discovered in Colorado and California.

Florida’s health statement said the new virus variant was detected in a man in his 20s in Martin County, which abuts the Atlantic Coast above densely populated South Florida. The health department did not give further details, such as releasing the man’s medical condition or how the strain was detected.

California on Wednesday announced the nation’s second confirmed case of the new virus strain. The announcement came 24 hours after word of the first reported variant infection in the U.S., which emerged in Colorado — in a National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak.

Scientists in the U.K. believe the variant is more contagious than previously identified strains. The cases have triggered questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.

Medical staff member Diana Isabel Escalante talks to a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit on New Year’s Eve at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

In Wisconsin, authorities arrested a suburban Milwaukee pharmacist Thursday suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing them from refrigeration. Police in Grafton, about 32 kilometres north of Milwaukee, said the Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist was arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property, all felonies.

The pharmacist has been fired and police said in a news release that he was in jail. Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged. His motive remains unclear. Police said that detectives believe he knew the spoiled doses would be useless and people who received them would mistakenly think they’d been vaccinated when they hadn’t.

– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

Fallout over some Canadian politicians’ holiday travels continued Friday, as the federal NDP announced it will remove an MP from her shadow critic roles after she revealed that she went to Greece to see an ill relative.

In a tweet on Friday evening, Niki Ashton, member of Parliament for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski in Manitoba, said she spent the holidays at home before travelling to Greece to be with her “ailing grandmother.”

The NDP released a statement about an hour after her tweet, saying NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was not informed beforehand about her travel and that Ashton will be removed from her shadow critic roles.

“While we are sympathetic to Ms. Ashton’s situation and understand her need to be with her family, millions of Canadians are following public health guidelines, even when it made it impossible for them to visit sick or aging relatives,” the statement read. “Canadians, rightfully, expect their elected representatives to lead by example.”

WATCH | Mandatory COVID-19 tests add turbulence between airlines, Ottawa:

The federal government has set Jan. 7 as the date when airline passengers will require a negative COVID-19 test before entering Canada. The decision has added turbulence to the already fraught relationship between Ottawa and the airlines. 1:56

Ashton is the latest politician to come under fire in the past few days for travelling over the holidays. Earlier on Friday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney ordered MLAs in his province not to leave Canada unless on government business after a minister’s vacation sparked outcry from the opposition.

At a news conference, Kenney took responsibility for not being clear about travel rules for MLAs after news of Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard’s Hawaii vacation was revealed. 

While Kenney called the trip a “significant error in judgment,” he wouldn’t be sanctioning Allard or others in government who travelled, as they did not break the law, and he said he was not clear with staff about whether or not they should be travelling.

WATCH | Alberta premier won’t sanction minister after Hawaii trip:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says communication on travel rules wasn’t clear and wouldn’t sanction Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard after she travelled abroad. 6:12

At a phone-in news conference Friday afternoon, Allard expressed regret and called her trip a “lapse in judgment.”

The minister said she has spent Christmas in Hawaii with her family for most of the past 17 years. She also said she felt she was keeping with the current health mandate through the international border testing program, which allows for a shorter quarantine period following a negative COVID-19 test.

“With all that said, however, as a minister of the Crown, I know that I’m held to a higher standard and in retrospect, I definitely made the wrong decision,” she said.

Alberta was one of the few provinces and territories to report new COVID-19 figures on New Year’s Day. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said in a tweet that there were an estimated 1,300 new cases on Thursday. (The province did not provide an update on that day.)

Meanwhile, New Brunswick reported two new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, and Yukon reported four new cases in people who were exposed to someone who had travelled outside the territory.

As of early Friday morning, before the updates from Yukon, New Brunswick and Alberta, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 580,195, with 74,777 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,605.  

Ontario became the first province to report more than 3,000 cases in a single day when it reported 3,328 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

Quebec, the hardest-hit province in Canada, also reported a record single-day high of 2,819 new cases on Thursday, which took its cumulative number of infections over 200,000.

Quebec also said Thursday that it’s changing its COVID-19 vaccine strategy in order to vaccinate as many people as possible instead of holding doses back for booster shots — a practice already in place in several other provinces.

WATCH | ICU doctor reflects on his vaccination, impacts of pandemic:

As the new year begins, vaccines continue to roll out to priority groups across the country. Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng is an ICU and palliative care physician at The Ottawa Hospital and he is starting the year off by getting a vaccine. He talked to CBC News about what the vaccination means to him and why Canadians should stay the course in following public health guidelines. 6:50

Here’s a look at what’s happening with COVID-19 across the country:

– From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 9 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

As of Friday evening, more than 83.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 47.2 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.

The World Health Organization says it has cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon get access to the shot already available in Europe and North America.

Every country that has a drug regulatory agency will have to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems usually rely on WHO to vet the shots.

The global body said late Thursday that the decision to issue its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine “opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”

The UN health agency said its review found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received clearance in the United States, Britain, Canada, the European Union and a dozen other countries, “met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set out by WHO.”

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the required freezers and reliable electricity supply may not be available.

“This requirement makes the vaccine more challenging to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible,” WHO said, adding that it was “working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible.”

WATCH | U.K. hospitals in ‘eye of the storm’ as cases surge:

The CBC’s Cindy Pom gives the latest from the U.K. as British medics warn that hospitals around the country face a perilous few weeks amid surging new coronavirus infections that have been blamed on a new variant of the virus. 3:13

In Europe, British medical workers warned Friday that hospitals around the country face a perilous situation in January, amid surging coronavirus infections blamed on a new virus variant. Authorities pressed to reactivate field hospitals previously mothballed just to handle the crush of new patients.

The United Kingdom recorded a further 53,285 cases of COVID-19 and 613 deaths on Friday, the fourth day running that it has topped 50,000 cases, official data showed.

France’s nationwide overnight curfew to limit coronavirus infections is being extended by two extra hours in 15 regions in the east of the country where cases have been surging.All travellers entering Norway will have to take a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of arrival from Jan. 2, the country’s justice ministry said.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines will prohibit the entry of foreign travellers from the United States effective Jan. 3, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson said on Friday, after the more infectious new variant of the coronavirus was detected in Florida.

The travel ban, until Jan. 15, covers those who have been to the United States within 14 days preceding arrival in the Philippines, spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement. The measure expands the travel restriction that Manila announced on Tuesday, which initially covered passengers from 19 countries and territories — including Canada — and took effect as of midnight on Dec. 29.

Two major airports in northeastern China are requiring departing passengers to show a negative coronavirus test taken over the previous 72 hours before they can board their planes.

The requirements by the Shenyang and Dalian come amid a small but persistent growth in cases in the two cities located in Liaoning province just north of the capital Beijing. Four new cases were announced Friday in Liaoning, along with another five cases in Beijing, where emergency testing was ordered for more than a million people following the detection of a small cluster in the northeastern suburbs.

Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s annual Lunar New Year holiday.

The Thai capital is shutting down venues including schools and entertainment parks as coronavirus cases continue to spread. Thailand reported 279 new cases on Friday including two deaths.

A woman checks her temperature as she visits a popular entertainment street to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Bangkok during the coronavirus pandemic in Thailand. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

In the Americas, Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll topped 195,000 after the Health Ministry reported 462 deaths in the past 24 hours, as well as 24,605 additional confirmed cases.

The country has now registered more than 7.7 million cases since the pandemic began, according to ministry data, in the world’s third-worst outbreak after the United States and India.

In Africa, Chad has locked down its capital N’djamena for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic and has declared a dusk to dawn curfew due to a rise in infections.

In the Middle East, Israel said it has vaccinated one million people against COVID-19, more than a tenth of its population, as it rolls out one of the world’s earliest and most rapid inoculation campaigns.

Iranian media said Thursday the country is negotiating the purchase of coronavirus vaccines from China. The semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi as saying: “We are reaching agreement with China for buying four million doses.”

Vaezi said the process would take around two months. Iran has already discussed buying vaccines from both Russia and India. China on Thursday authorized the Sinopharm vaccine for general use, after it had already approved its use earlier to health-care professionals and essential workers under emergency-use guidelines. Vaezi said Iran will also buy vaccines from COVAX, the global vaccine consortium.

– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9 p.m. ET





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