Top health officials say they are “cautiously optimistic” about Canada’s odds of obtaining a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine for distribution sometime in the first quarter of 2021.
But even if that timeline is met, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warns that doses would be in short supply at first — which would force governments to decide who gets immunized first.
“While that supply will continue to increase over time, it does mean that federal, provincial and territorial governments will have to make important decisions about how to use the initial vaccine supply,” Tam told reporters at a press conference Friday.
Tam said preliminary guidelines published earlier this week by Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), a multi-disciplinary panel of experts, should help guide decisions on who should be first in line.
Key populations identified by NACI for early immunization include seniors and people with high-risk conditions, health care workers, long-term care providers and people who can’t work virtually, such as police, firefighters and grocery staff.
“There are many conversations to be had about who gets those first doses of vaccines,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“The most vulnerable, Indigenous peoples, frontline health workers — these are the kinds of populations we’re looking at for their high degree of vulnerability. But of course, those are conversations that will be had amongst provinces and territories and including experts.”
WATCH: Dr. Howard Njoo discusses COVID vaccine approvals, now expected early next year
Canada’s deputy chief public health officer spoke with reporters at the pandemic briefing in Ottawa on Friday. 3:17
While many vaccine candidates have shown promising early results, Tam warned that further research must be done in clinical trials to ensure they are safe and effective and Health Canada still needs to evaluate and approve any vaccines before they can be distributed.
Health Canada has so far received three official applications for vaccine approval, all of which are under review: from U.K.-based AstraZeneca, which is manufacturing a vaccine developed at the University of Oxford; from U.S. biotechnology firm Moderna, which launched the first Phase 3 clinical trial in the U.S. in July; and from U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech, which are collaborating on a vaccine.
“We will be receiving additional advice on prioritization based on the characteristics of each vaccine once approved,” said Tam.
WATCH: Trudeau says the first COVID vaccines are close to being approved but are tricky to handle
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters at the pandemic briefing in Ottawa on Friday. 2:41
Beyond deciding who will get priority, bureaucrats at all levels of government are working to ensure the infrastructure and equipment is in place to distribute vaccines once they are ready, said Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo.
That work includes procuring equipment (such as syringes) and ensuring there is cold storage infrastructure in place to store and transport vaccines — some of which need to be kept at extremely low temperatures.
Njoo pointed out that the vaccine furthest along the development phase needs to be stored at -80 C, which could pose logistical challenges for the pharmacies and doctor’s offices typically involved in vaccine distribution.
“That’s not the way most vaccines in Canada in the past … in fact, none of them have been obligated to have that kind of cold chain in terms of logistics,” said Njoo. “We have to … work out the mechanics in terms of buying the right kinds of freezers, etcetera, the transportation mechanisms, etcetera, to be able to assure that if that’s the first one out of the pipeline that get’s approved … that we’re able to do that in the most effective and efficient manner.”
Njoo said all vaccines will be free of charge to all Canadians once they become available.
The world’s third-largest cruise ship operator cast doubt on its ability to stay afloat as a company for much longer, even as one of its biggest rivals said it is taking its first tentative steps toward reopening after COVID-19.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. warned investors it doesn’t have enough money to cover its financial obligations this year, an announcement that caused shares in the company to sell off heavily.
“COVID-19 has had, and is expected to continue to have, a significant impact on our financial condition and operations, which adversely affects our ability to obtain acceptable financing to fund resulting reductions in cash from operations,” Norwegian Cruise Line said.
The company said that as of April 24, advanced bookings for the remainder of the year were “meaningfully lower than the prior year, with pricing down mid-single digits.”
The company announced an emergency stock and bond sale to raise $ 1.6 billion US to try to keep the company afloat
Norwegian shares lost about 20 per cent on the New York Stock Exchange to change hands just below $ 12 a share. As recently as February, those same shares were worth more than $ 55 apiece.
Cruise ships have been thrown into disarray by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “no sail” order to all cruise companies in U.S. waters on March 14.
That order was set to expire on April 10, but has since been extended multiple times. Unless there is a further extension, the no sail order is set to expire on July 24. But Norwegian’s dire warnings on Tuesday cast doubt on its ability to stay in business.
The company has suspended all of its cruises at least until the end of June, and has so far provided no indication of when it could conceivably set sail again.
In a regulatory filing the company said it owed $ 6 billion at the end of last year and given its lack of revenue, its current debts “have raised substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern, as the Company does not have sufficient liquidity to meet its obligations over the next twelve months.”
Carnival announces 8 new cruises in August
Norwegian’s bleak tone for its future comes as rival Carnival said it is taking the first tentative steps toward reopening operations later this summer.
Carnival — the world’s largest cruise operator, which owns 27 ships and transported five million people last year — said it is booking eight cruises scheduled to leave from Texas and Florida some time in August, bound for destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico.
“We continue to engage with the CDC and government officials at a variety of levels about new protocols we would implement prior to a return to sailing,” the company said. “We will also be in discussions with officials in the destinations we visit.”
Carnival’s CEO recently said the company can last through 2020 with no revenue from cruises.
Royal Caribbean, the world’s second-largest cruise operator, has yet to make any public announcements about when it may return to service.
The cruise industry dominated by those three names was left out of a $ 2.3-trillion US stimulus package for troubled companies as the major players are all incorporated outside the United States.
Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University’s College of Public Health, said she’s not sure how cruising can be done safely. Even with reduced capacity, she said, ventilation systems can still spread droplets through enclosed spaces.
“Everything would still have to be distanced,” she said. “Dancing, concerts on board, other types of entertainment? Doubtful. Pools? Probably overcrowded. Dining? No idea how they’d do it.”
Canada’s top public health official struck an optimistic tone about the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday, saying that efforts to flatten the curve are working as provinces across the country reported more positive figures.
“By following public health recommendations, we have collectively brought down the rate of infection. We are flattening the curve,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a news release as federal officials and the prime minister took a break from their daily news conferences.
“While we can continue to be cautiously optimistic, it is important that everyone remains aware of our duty to protect one another, especially those who are most vulnerable, as we navigate the next few weeks.”
No active cases in N.B.
The message came as New Brunswick reported they had no more active cases of COVID-19 on Saturday after two weeks without a new infection, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province could get through the pandemic faster than previously expected.
“We’re seeing a gradual downward slope in the public domain, and the lower we get the more we can open up and get back to the new normal,” Ford said.
“I don’t know the exact time … but if we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to get out of this a lot sooner than we thought we might’ve been able to get out a couple of months ago.”
At the provincial legislature, demonstrators gathered for a second Saturday in a row for an anti-lockdown protest. Ford blasted the protesters for disrespecting the Canadian flag by flying it upside down during the demonstration.
“I understand, people are hurting out there and people want to get back out there,” Ford said. But he added that flying the flag upside down disrespects members of the Armed Forces who are overseas, as well as those helping in long-term care facilities in Ontario.
“What they’re doing is putting their lives in jeopardy as far as I’m concerned with congregating side-by-side,” he said.
Ford said he respected their right to protest but wondered whether it’s fair that mothers with their children receive fines for being in parks while anti-lockdown protesters aren’t fined.
More lockdown rules being lifted
Provinces across Canada are preparing to start relaxing lockdown rules in the coming week.
Businesses such as gardening centres and auto dealerships will be allowed to open in Ontario on Monday, while residents in Newfoundland and Labrador will be allowed to interact with one household other than their own.
Quebec has announced plans to gradually reopen daycares, elementary schools, retail businesses, construction and manufacturing during the month of May.
That province has seen most of its deaths in long-term care homes, and Quebec Premier François Legault has said the fight against COVID-19 is entirely different in those facilities — an argument Ontario’s premier agreed with on Saturday.
“There’s two different worlds right now we’re fighting this virus, one in long-term care homes and one in the public domain,” Ford said. “In the public domain, everyone has done an incredible job … and that’s the reason why we see the trend going down.”
As of Saturday evening, Canada had 56,714 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases, with the majority concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. Provinces and territories list 23,814 of the cases as resolved or recovered. A CBC News tally of COVID-19-related deaths based on provincial data, regional health information and CBC’s reporting lists 3,656 deaths in Canada and two known coronavirus-related deaths of Canadians abroad.
The contagious respiratory illness causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. There is no proven treatment or vaccine for the virus, which first emerged in China in late 2019.
‘We cannot afford any missteps’
British Columbia’s top medical official Dr. Bonnie Henry urged people to stay vigilant, asking anyone with symptoms to contact health officials and take measures to protect their family and community members.
“It is far too easy to tip the scales against us and undo the hard work and sacrifice that everybody here in B.C. has made,” she said Saturday as the province announced just 26 new cases.
“We cannot afford any missteps as we look to ease our restrictions in the coming days and weeks.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with his counterpart in New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, to share information about fighting the pandemic while protecting the economy.
A readout of the call said the two leaders also spoke about the need to keep supply chains working throughout the global crisis, particularly in regards to medical supplies.
New Zealand has widely been seen as a success story in the effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
WATCH | Canada’s economy to be particularly hard hit by COVID-19, says expert
Canada faces several economic disadvantages as it emerges from the pandemic but having the U.S. as its major trading partner could help, says Peter Hall, the chief economist for Export Development Canada. 7:36
WATCH | Edmonton grandma overcomes broken pelvis, pneumonia and COVID-19:
Edmonton grandma overcomes broken pelvis, pneumonia and COVID-19. 0:41
Saskatchewan announced that its number of cases has climbed to 421, with six new cases recorded on Saturday. Of the new cases included in the update, four are in the North, one is in Saskatoon and one is in Regina. Northern leaders say drastic action may have to be taken unless more people start following public health orders, as they say some people are still trying to go around the restrictions. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
WATCH | Personal support workers reusing masks amid PPE shortage
Some personal support workers are using the same protective mask multiple times a day while going in and out of care homes because they worry about running out. 2:03
Quebec’s director of public health says the province is launching a more “aggressive” testing strategy as it begins to loosen pandemic restrictions.Dr. Horacio Arruda says Quebec is planning to conduct 14,000 tests a day, up from roughly 6,000 tests a day that it’s currently doing. The province wants to start testing regular citizens, including some without symptoms. Until late this week, Quebec was only testing essential workers with symptoms, with a focus on health-care workers. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
New Brunswick is COVID-19 free, according to the latest numbers from the province. The province says there were no new cases on Saturday — for the 14th straight day — and all 118 cases have now recovered. That makes New Brunswick the only province without a confirmed active case in the country. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
Nova Scotia is reporting two more deaths at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax. That brings the death toll in the province to 31. The province also reported four news cases, bringing the total number of positive cases to 963. To date, 609 people have recovered from COVID-19. Twelve people are in hospital, including three in intensive care. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.
In Prince Edward Island, Phase 1 of the province’s plan to ease restrictions began Friday. P.E.I.’s chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, said the provincial government will continue to emphasize physical distancing, good hygiene and staying home as much as possible. The Island has 27 confirmed cases, but only two since April 8. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.
Newfoundland and Labrador has no new reported cases of COVID-19 on Saturday. According to a news release issued by the provincial government, the number of total cases in the province remains at 259.
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WATCH | Yellowknife’s sanitation workers keep working amid pandemic:
Kavanaugh Brothers owner and general manager Peter Houweling shares what he’s doing differently to keep trash collection going in the middle of a pandemic. 3:06
What’s happening in the U.S.
Gorgeous spring weather across the U.S. Saturday drew people cooped up inside for weeks outside to soak in the sun.
Though grateful to be outdoors, people were still wary — masks were worn everywhere, and a New York City farmer’s market enforced the familiar two metres of space between people waiting to buy spring flowers. Mothers in Central Park reminded their kids to give people space. And small groups of picnickers kept their safe distances, while joggers moved past each other without a glance.
Retired New York attorney Stan Neustadter pulled down his mask to say it’s been important to his spirit to get out. “Why live like a rabbit? Plus I’m approaching 78, I’ve had a great run,” Neustadter said.
Police and park officials were spread out across New York City, which sent out 1,000 officers to enforce social distancing on the warmest day since mid-March. But they were more likely to break up large groups, leaving the nuisances of social distancing and hanging out safely outside to New Yorkers themselves.
“Go for a walk, but respect the social distancing and wear a mask,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
With gigs drying up at clubs and concert halls, German native Julia Banholzer, a saxophonist, said she has taken to playing al fresco in Central Park for whoever happens by. On Saturday that was a steady stream of folks, most wearing masks, who left tips for her trio as they worked their way through a set of jazz standards.
“It’s great to have an audience after all these weeks.” she said. “All my dates have been cancelled through September, and I don’t know if any will come back this year. New York is a tough place, but this is just another tough period we need to get through.”
‘So far, so good’
Meanwhile, fighter jets from the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds drew people outside as they flew over Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington in honour of health-care workers. In Atlanta, motorists stopped on a major highway while other people found open places to look to the sky on rooftops or a cemetery.
New Jersey reopened state parks Saturday. Limited to 50 per cent capacity in their parking areas, several had to turn away additional arrivals by the afternoon. But nearly everyone followed the rules on social distancing and Gov. Phil Murphy said “so far, so good” at his daily briefing.
Margie Roebuck and her husband were among the first people on the sand at Island Beach State Park. “Forty-six days in the house was enough,” she said.
There are economic factors to consider as well. In some areas of the United States, reopening is being urged to ease the shutdown of businesses that plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s and wiped out millions of jobs.
It has created a patchwork of rules across the 50 states. In South Carolina, where about 20 per cent of the state’s revenue comes from tourism, beach hotels were allowed to reopen Friday. Webcams showed dozens of people on the beach Saturday, but pools still closed. South Carolina also hasn’t reopened dine-in restaurants, unlike neighbouring Georgia. Some U.S. states have yet to start the reopening process.
Business owners have also been left wondering if customers will return. On a postcard-perfect spring day, Detroit’s Eastern Market had far fewer customers and vendors than normal at the farmers market.
Jill and Mark Thomas said they felt safe selling bottles of homemade wine from their Unwined Winery, but it wasn’t the same in the COVID-19 world.
“It’s easier when you can get samples to people,” said Jill Thomas. “We’re not allowed to do that now.”
What’s happening around the world
China‘s health authorities say two new coronavirus cases were confirmed Saturday, continuing a downward trend since the government took steps to cut the number of people arriving from overseas. China’s official confirmed case count stands at 82,877 and its death toll has reached 4,633.
The government has blocked virtually all foreigners from entering the country and sharply curtailed the number of international flights, making it difficult for Chinese citizens to return from overseas too.
Yemen‘s health authorities say there are three new coronavirus cases in the southern city of Aden and the western city of Taiz, bringing the total number of cases to 10 with two deaths. Saturday’s announcement comes as the U.N. health agency has warned of the invisible outbreak of the virus, saying that it’s “actively circulating throughout the country.” The agency says testing and resources to detect the virus are “grossly insufficient.”
Yemen has been embroiled in civil war for more than five years and has a fragile health system, with half of the health facilities not properly functioning.
Britain‘s Department of Health says a total of 28,131 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for the new coronavirus in the United Kingdom, an increase of 621 from the previous tally.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday told the nation that Britain had passed its peak in the COVID-19 outbreak and said he has plans to reveal a “road map” outlining how lockdown steps might be eased in the coming week.
In Italy, the number of beds treating COVID-19 patients continued to decline as the country prepared to ease its strict lockdown measures on Monday.
The Civil Protection Agency said that there were 212 fewer people hospitalized with the virus and 39 fewer in intensive care in the past 24 hours, numbers that have been consistently easing in recent weeks. That has given authorities confidence to be able to cope with any new spike in cases as more businesses reopen and individuals are allowed more freedom to move around their towns and cities of residence.
At the same time, the number of dead nudged up the most in 11 days — by 474 — and the number of people who have recovered from the virus was the lowest in more than two weeks. Italy has registered the most deaths after the United States, at 28,710.
WATCH | Italian cities test physical distancing measures as restrictions soon to ease
Picturesque Florence and Ostia prepare to slowly transition to a somewhat new normal beginning May 4. 1:02
In Spain, people filled the streets Saturday to exercise for the first time after seven weeks of confinement to fight the coronavirus.
People ran, walked or rode bicycles under a sunny sky in Barcelona, where many flocked to the maritime promenade to get close to the still off-limits beach. Others jogged around parks and along sidewalks across the nation.
“Some people think it may be too early, as I do, but it is also important to do exercise for health reasons,” says 36-year-old Cristina Palomeque in Barcelona.
Spain has 24,824 confirmed deaths from the virus and 215,216 infections.