Britain’s slow but steady march out of a three-month lockdown remains on track even as coronavirus cases surge elsewhere in Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday, as he confirmed that businesses from barbers to bookstores will be allowed to reopen next week
Johnson said it’s too soon to decide, however, whether U.K. residents will be able to have summer trips abroad. He confirmed that the government will test out a “vaccine passport” system — a way for people to offer proof they have protection from COVID-19 — as a tool to help travel and large events return safely.
Four weeks after England took its first step out of lockdown by reopening schools, Johnson said Britain’s vaccination program was proceeding well and infections were falling. He said the next step would come as planned on April 12, with the reopening of hairdressers, beauty salons, gyms, non-essential shops and bar and restaurant patios.
“We set out our road map and we’re sticking to it,” Johnson said during a news conference.
But, he added: “We can’t be complacent. We can see the waves of sickness afflicting other countries, and we’ve seen how this story goes.”
A ban on overnight stays away from home in England will also be lifted April 12, and outdoor venues such as zoos and drive-in cinemas can operate again.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following similar but slightly different paths out of lockdown.
Highest death toll in Europe
Britain has recorded almost 127,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe. But infections and deaths both have fallen sharply during the current lockdown and since the start of a vaccination campaign that has given a first dose to more than 31 million people, or six in 10 adults.
The government aims to give all adults at least one shot of vaccine by July, and hopes that a combination of vaccination and mass testing will allow indoor socializing and large-scale events to return.
It says all adults and children in England will be encouraged to have routine coronavirus tests twice a week as a way to stamp out new outbreaks. The government said free lateral flow tests will be available free starting Friday by mail, from pharmacies and in workplaces.
Lateral flow tests give results in minutes but are less accurate than the PCR swab tests used to officially confirm cases of COVID-19. But the government insists they are reliable and will help find people who contract the virus but don’t have symptoms.
Britons are currently banned by law from going on holiday abroad under the extraordinary powers Parliament has given the government to fight the pandemic. The government said Monday it won’t lift the travel ban before May 17 — and maybe later.
“The government hopes people will be able to travel to and from the U.K. to take a summer holiday this year, but it is still too soon to know what is possible,” it said in an official update.
Once travel resumes, Britain will rank countries on a traffic-light system as green, yellow or red based on their level of vaccinations, infections and worrying new virus variants. People arriving from “green” countries will have to be tested but won’t face quarantine.
The government also is testing a system of “COVID-status certification” — often dubbed “vaccine passports” — that would allow people seeking to travel or attend events to show they either have received a coronavirus vaccine, tested negative for the virus, or recently had COVID-19 and therefore have some immunity.
The return of football
A series of events will start this month, including soccer matches, comedy shows and marathon races. The government said the first events will rely only on testing, “but in later pilots vaccination and acquired immunity are expected to be alternative ways to demonstrate status.”
The issue of vaccine passports has been hotly debated around the world, raising questions about how much governments, employers and venues have a right to know about a person’s virus status. The idea is opposed by a wide swath of British lawmakers, from left-of-center opposition politicians to members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, and the policy could face stiff opposition when it is put before Parliament later this month.
Conservative legislator Graham Brady said vaccine passports would be “intrusive, costly and unnecessary.” The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, called the idea “un-British.”
The government said vaccine passports were all but unavoidable, since many countries were certain to demand proof of COVID-19 status for entry.
After two months of relative stability, Canada’s COVID-19 case count is expected to rise rapidly in the coming weeks as virus variants take hold.
Canada is projected to hit roughly 1 million total cases next week, according to data released today by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
While the vaccination campaign has ramped up after a period of scarcity, the rollout can’t keep pace with the spread of the virus, said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. Tam today urged Canadians to reduce their contacts in the medium-term while provinces and territories deploy more shots in the months to come.
“COVID-19 still has a few tricks in store and we need to hold on together a bit stronger and longer until vaccines have us protected,” Tam said.
While the setback is “discouraging,” she said, better days are ahead. “We are closer now than ever, but it’s still too soon to relax measures.”
Asked today when things might return to a pre-pandemic “normal,” Tam said that day is not imminent. With the caseload curve trending up, variants accelerating and vaccine distribution still quite low, a post-COVID-19 Canada is still months away, she said.
“It’s not going to be, ‘Here’s a date and after that date all is going to be good.’ It’s data, not dates,” she said. “By the fall — that’s what I think we should be aiming for.”
WATCH: Tam is asked when life will return to a pre-pandemic normal
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, responds to a question about the pandemic’s likely end date. 3:37
COVID-19 variants like B117, which is thought to have originated in the U.K., now account for a high proportion of new cases and make up half of all new cases in some areas. There are roughly 3,000 new cases being reported each day nationwide, up from about 2,000 a month ago.
Case count could rise to 12,000 a day
With variants now circulating widely, PHAC said the case count could rise to 12,000 a day if Canadians maintain or increase the number of people they are in contact with daily. The public health measures in place in most jurisdictions will be “insufficient” to keep cases at bay, the agency said.
Alberta, B.C. and Ontario are projected to see the biggest spike in daily cases — early data suggest variants are particularly widespread in these provinces. PHAC predicts Ontario alone could record as many as 10,000 cases a day if public health measures are relaxed or maintained at their current level.
While an increase in the number of new cases is almost certain over the coming weeks in the six provinces west of Atlantic Canada, PHAC says that the country will be able to hold the line at 5,000 cases a day if Canadians reduce their contacts.
PHAC is projecting the death rate will be relatively lower than it was with past caseload spikes because some of the most vulnerable people — long term care home residents, seniors, Indigenous adults — have been vaccinated.
Tam warned, however, that the B117 variant may lead to more severe cases and could prove to be more deadly.
The public health agency said it expects many of the new cases to come from people aged 20 to 39. While death is less likely in this demographic, younger patients still face the prospect of severe health outcomes.
“The younger people, you’re going to get some people who are going to end up in hospital,” Tam said.
PHAC is predicting the cumulative case count — the number of cases reported since this pandemic began — will jump over the next week from 951,000 to between 973,000 and 1,005,000.
The spread of the variants — which are more transmissible than the strain first discovered in Wuhan — has also resulted in an increase in hospitalizations. There are now some 2,200 people in hospitals — 600 of them in intensive care units.
But the vaccination campaign is starting to bear fruit, with case counts among the 80-plus age cohort declining dramatically.
While there were 35 cases per 100,000 people aged 80 or older in January, the case rate has dropped to less than 5 per 100,000.
Most provinces and territories have been directing the early supply of mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna to seniors. About 60 per cent of all people over the age of 80 have received at least one shot, PHAC said.
The number of outbreaks in long-term care homes is also much lower than it was just three months ago. There were as many as 500 long-term care home outbreaks at any one time in December, while there have been fewer than 100 reported throughout March.
That’s the notion Canadian WNBA player and TSN commentator Kia Nurse hopes will inspire young women as the NBA’s first all-women broadcast team prepares to call the Raptors’ game against the Denver Nuggets Wednesday.
Nurse hopes the influence of the first-of-its kind broadcast is similar to what she’s experienced recently as a player for the Women’s National Basketball Association, a league that’s had a huge impact with its social activism.
Some examples include their efforts to help the Democrats win a Senate seat in Georgia and the league’s #SayHerName campaign that created awareness about the police shooting of Breonna Taylor. Maya Moore, one the WNBA’s most famous players, took a sabbatical from her basketball career to help free a wrongfully convicted man who is now her husband.
“I think people are starting to see how much of an impact we’re having. I mean, we helped flip the Senate,” Nurse told CBC Sports, referring to the work players did to encourage Georgians to vote specifically for Democrat Raphael Warnock and against Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the former owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream who spoke out against Black Lives Matter.
The all-women’s broadcast could have the same kind of impact, said Nurse, the 25-year-old from Hamilton, Ont., who played last season with the WNBA’s New York Liberty and was recently traded to the Phoenix Mercury.
“You have women who are doing an incredible job across different industries and different nations … coming together to show you guys what we’ve been working on, even though it hasn’t been in the spotlight.”
March 24th, 2021, we watch history. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/InternationalWomensDay?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#InternationalWomensDay</a> | <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeTheNorth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WeTheNorth</a> <a href=”https://t.co/fhJyT3dqQx”>pic.twitter.com/fhJyT3dqQx</a>
Nurse will work as a colour analyst for the game alongside play-by-play woman Meghan McPeak, who works for CBC Sports as well as in the booth for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the G League’s Capital City Go-Go.
TSN’s Kayla Grey will handle sideline reporting duties, while SportsCentre host Kate Beirness and Amy Audibert, an analyst for Raptors 905, will pair up for the in-game studio show.
Paving the way for the next generation
Nurse, who works as a TSN analyst during the WNBA off-season, says the broadcast will provide a template for young women to see what’s possible in a male-dominated sport and media industry.
“It wasn’t until I went to the U.S. one day and saw Maya Moore on television, I thought, ‘Oh, this would be cool to play in like a national championship and to play at UConn and whatnot,’ ” Nurse said.
McPeak echoed the sentiment on a recent episode of North Courts, a CBC Sports basketball show.
“That’s something that I never had growing up, so the fact that myself, Kia and Kayla can give that to little Black girls that look like us, that’s a fantastic feeling,” McPeak said.
“Representation matters and little girls will be able to see us doing what we do and might think that they can do it as well.”
As the women call an important Raptors game against a top-tier team the night before the NBA trade deadline, Nurse hopes it will provide a platform to continue speaking out in the name of change — just as she did last summer in the WNBA.
WATCH | McPeak discusses historic broadcast on North Courts:
It’s March Madness time and with a record number of Canadians in the NCAA tournament, we’re dedicating this episode to the stars from north of the border, including Jevohn catching up with Gonzaga’s own sixth man of the year Andrew Nembhard. 17:17
“We took to the court with the understanding that no matter what anybody was going to say about us … some people were going to like what we had to say and some people weren’t,” Nurse said.
“There’s a fine line between right and wrong. And we knew what was right.”
Providing inspiration for NCAA women’s athletes
To that end, after players in the NCAA women’s March Madness tournament used social media to expose how inferior their weight room setup was compared to the men’s teams, NCAA staff revamped the underwhelming setup with more equipment and machines.
Nurse was part of four Final Four teams with the University of Connecticut, and though she says she never had an issue with weight rooms specifically, she also never played the tournament in a bubble due to a pandemic. She said she’s confused as to how the unequal set-up happened, but isn’t surprised that it did.
“I’m proud of the young women who are at the tournament who took to social media and stood up for themselves,” Nurse said.
“I’m proud of everybody who rallied around them and continued to make it loud enough that the NCAA listened right away. But it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
<a href=”https://twitter.com/ncaawbb?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ncaawbb</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/NCAA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ncaa</a> this needs to be addressed. These women want and deserve to be given the same opportunities. <br><br>3 weeks in a bubble and no access to DBs > 30’s until the sweet 16? <br><br>In a year defined by a fight for equality this is a chance to have a conversation and get better. <a href=”https://t.co/jFQVv1PlUt”>pic.twitter.com/jFQVv1PlUt</a>
Nurse hopes that she and her fellow WNBA players can provide inspiration for today’s college athletes to continue to find their own voices and feel empowered to speak out.
“Because they know that if they’re working toward a league like the WNBA, then they’ll still have a voice when they get there.”
Meanwhile, Canadian national team head coach Lisa Thomaidis said television broadcasts like Wednesday’s should become the norm.
“All these steps along the way, they’re massive, right? They shouldn’t be, but they are,” she said. “The fact that we’re going to have an all-female broadcast crew just speaks to how far we’ve come.”
A role model on the court and in the booth
Nurse spoke to CBC Sports as part of her partnership with Tangerine Bank, which committed $ 15,000 to support Kia Nurse Elite, her Nike-backed youth basketball program.
When she was younger, Nurse said scheduling didn’t allow her to play provincially, nationally, and with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in the U.S. all at once. With the Elite program, she’s aiming to change that while providing young Canadian female basketball players the support they need.
“Every door that I’ve had opened up in my life has been a direct result of being able to play basketball and to playing at a high level in the community that I was a part of growing up.”
As a player, Nurse is used to serving as a role model for young Canadian basketball fans. On Wednesday, she’ll continue to influence the next generation — but this time, from the booth.
“Hopefully, if there are young women who are watching the game with their families, which I’m sure they are, seeing more people that look like them, maybe one of us resonates with them. And that’s all that matters in this case.”
The scientist who won the race to deliver the first widely used coronavirus vaccine says people can rest assured the shots are safe, and that the technology behind it will soon be used to fight another global scourge — cancer.
Ozlem Tureci, who founded the German company BioNTech with her husband, Ugur Sahin, was working on a way to harness the body’s immune system to tackle tumours when they learned last year of an unknown virus infecting people in China.
Over breakfast, the couple decided to apply the technology they’d been researching for two decades to the new threat.
Britain authorized BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine for use in December, followed a week later by Canada. Dozens of other countries, including the U.S., have followed suit and tens of millions of people worldwide have since received the shot developed together with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
“It pays off to make bold decisions and to trust that if you have an extraordinary team, you will be able to solve any problem and obstacle which comes your way in real time,” Tureci told The Associated Press in an interview.
Among the biggest challenges for the small, Mainz-based company were how to conduct large-scale clinical trials across different regions and how to scale up the manufacturing process to meet global demand.
Along with Pfizer, the company enlisted the help of Fosun Pharma in China “to get assets, capabilities and geographical footprint on board, which we did not have,” said Tureci.
Co-operation and collaboration
Among the lessons she and her colleagues learned was “how important co-operation and collaboration is internationally.”
Tureci, who was born in Germany to Turkish immigrants, said the company reached out to medical oversight bodies from the start, to ensure that the new type of vaccine would pass the rigorous scrutiny of regulators.
“The process of getting a medicine or a vaccine approved is one where many questions are asked, many experts are involved and there is external peer review of all the data and scientific discourse,” she said.
Amid a scare in Europe this week over the coronavirus shot made by British-Swedish rival AstraZeneca, Tureci dismissed the idea that any corners were cut by those racing to develop a vaccine.
“There is a very rigid process in place and the process does not stop after a vaccine has been approved,” she said. “It is, in fact, continuing now all around the world, where regulators have used reporting systems to screen and to assess any observations made with our or other vaccines.”
Tureci and her colleagues have all received the BioNTech shot themselves, she told the AP. “Yes, we have been vaccinated.”
Aim to develop new tool in fight against cancer
As BioNTech’s profile has grown during the pandemic, so has its value, adding much-needed funds the company will be able to use to pursue its original goal of developing a new tool against cancer.
The vaccine made by BioNTech-Pfizer and U.S. rival Moderna uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on tumours.
“We have several different cancer vaccines based on mRNA,” said Tureci.
Asked when such a therapy might be available, Tureci said “that’s very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines [against] cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.”
For now, Tureci and Sahin are trying to ensure the vaccines governments have ordered are delivered and that the shots respond effectively to any new mutation in the virus.
On Friday, the couple were taking time out of their schedule to receive Germany’s highest award, the Order of Merit, from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a trained scientist herself, was to attend the ceremony.
“It’s indeed an honour,” Tureci said of the award. “Both my husband and I are touched.”
But she insisted developing the vaccine was the work of many.
“It’s about the effort of many, our team at BioNTech, all the partners who were involved, also governments, regulatory authorities, which worked together with a sense of urgency,” she said. “The way we see it, this is an acknowledgement of this effort and also a celebration of science.”
This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians.
News Tuesday that the United States is racing ahead to mass-vaccination against COVID-19 months faster than expected is a big deal not only for Americans but could also have implications for Canada, which has so far been prevented from importing U.S.-made vaccines.
U.S. President Joe Biden tweeted Tuesday that the U.S. should have enough vaccines for all Americans by the end of May, two months sooner than the previously announced target.
So, where will massive American production volumes shift next?
One U.S. lawmaker’s suggestion: Canada and Mexico.
Vicente Gonzalez, a member of the House of Representatives, says the U.S. must make it a priority to ship vaccines across the border to its neighbours once Americans are inoculated.
The Texas Democrat says he’s looking forward to when the U.S. can ease up on an export ban that has prevented foreign shipments of doses produced in the country.
Biden’s administration, like the Trump administration before it, has blocked exports and rebuffed requests from Canada and Mexico for supplies.
“The borders are closed in my district,” the Democratic lawmaker, whose district sits along part of the U.S.-Mexico border, told CNN Monday.
“Mexican nationals with visas who normally travel here or own second homes [or] come and do business here are not allowed across the border right now.
“So, we definitely need to immunize our friends across the border at some point, once we’re finished doing it here in our country.”
Gonzalez said the U.S. will only truly recover from the pandemic when its neighbours are safe, too.
“I think we have five vaccines for every American, so we certainly have some extra vaccines that we could share with other countries — especially somebody like Mexico or Canada, who we do a lot of business with … where a lot of commerce and tourism flow on a regular basis,” Gonzalez said in the interview.
“So we don’t live in this world, isolated. It’s a global community, and certainly, North America is a very tight-knit community. We have relatives on both sides of the border, we do business on both sides of the border, whether it’s Canada or Mexico.”
Gonzalez’s comments point to a question that will only intensify over the coming months about what happens to the big production capacity within the United States once export bans are lifted on plants such as Pfizer’s in Michigan and Moderna’s in New England.
The United States has vaccinated residents at quadruple the rate of Canada. Biden has said in the past that there should be enough vaccines for all Americans by the end of July before revising that to late May on Tuesday.
That puts the U.S. schedule several months ahead of Canada’s.
Biden says vaccines arriving faster than expected:
Three weeks ago, I announced we would have enough vaccine supply for all Americans by the end of July.<br><br>Now, with our efforts to ramp up production, we will have enough vaccines for every American by the end of May.
Vaccine deliveries are starting to ramp up again and Canadians everywhere are asking themselves the same questions: When will it be my turn? And how will I know?
Each province has a phased plan for vaccine deployment which indicates when the various priority groups can expect to receive the shots.
All provincial and territorial governments maintain they’re ready to speed up the vaccination effort as the supply increases, but some of their timetables remain vague. Here’s what we know so far about who’s getting the shots and when.
B.C. is still in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout, which covers residents and staff of long-term care facilities, health care workers who may provide care for COVID-19 patients and remote and isolated Indigenous communities.
The subsequent phase runs over February to March and includes seniors 80 and over, Indigenous seniors 65 and over, hospital staff and medical specialists, vulnerable populations living and working in congregated settings and staff providing in-home support to seniors.
B.C. says the province’s general population will start getting the vaccines in April, with older residents getting their shots first.
Immunization clinics overseen by local health authorities are being organized in 172 communities in school gymnasiums, arenas, convention centres and community halls.
B.C. said it would start reaching out by the end of February to seniors 80 years and older, Indigenous seniors aged 65 and older and Indigenous Elders to tell them how to pre-register for immunization appointments.
Pre-registration for vaccinations opens in March. People can pre-register, online or by phone, two to four weeks before they are eligible. Eligibility is based on the current phase of the vaccination program and the recipient’s age.
Those contacted for vaccination appointments are pre-screened for eligibility before choosing a location, date and time to receive the shot.
After an individual gets their first vaccine dose, they’ll be told by email, text or phone when they can book an appointment for their second dose.
For more information about B.C.’s vaccination plan, go here.
Alberta is in the first phase of its vaccine rollout. This phase — which is expected to run until the end of the month — covers health care workers who could be in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and residents of long-term care facilities.
As of Feb. 24, seniors 75 and over and seniors 65 and over living in First Nations and Métis communities will be eligible for vaccination. The Alberta government estimates there are about 230,000 seniors in these two groups.
Given the anticipated vaccine delivery schedule, Alberta Health Services says it expects it will be vaccinating people in this phase over most of March.
Phase 2 is expected to begin in April. Vaccinations in this phase will be offered to anyone aged 50 to 74 years, anyone with underlying health conditions, First Nations and Métis people aged 35 and older, residents and staff in congregate living settings and eligible caregivers.
The Alberta government says that, as supply increases, it will accelerate vaccinations on the model of its annual flu campaign by using Alberta Health Services staff, community pharmacies and family physicians. The province was able to administer 1.3 million flu shots in six weeks last fall — an average of over 30,000 shots per day.
For more information about Alberta’s vaccination plan, go here.
Saskatchewan’s Phase 1 is still underway, focusing on health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care homes, residents 70 years and older and residents in remote and northern regions over the age of 50.
The timing is still not known, but Phase 2 will cover the general population starting with people aged 60-69, extremely vulnerable individuals and staff and residents of group homes and emergency shelters.
The province expects that when Phase 2 begins, there will be 226 vaccine clinics in 181 communities across the province operated by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Those clinics will include mass vaccination sites, drive-through locations and mobile vaccination clinics. More sites will be added through pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
People will be asked to register for vaccination through an online platform or by phone.
For more information about Saskatchewan’s vaccination plan, go here.
Manitoba’s immunization teams are now vaccinating residents at 1,400 congregate living sites, including hospitals, supportive housing facilities and assisted living sites. On February 19, immunization began in Brandon and Winnipeg.
The next eligible group includes health care workers who were not included in Phase 1, residents and staff of shared living facilities and essential workers.
On March 5, the province expects to open two new “supersites” for large-scale vaccinations in Selkirk and the Morden-Winkler area, bringing the number of such sites to six. (Three are in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson, with a fourth facility at the airport outside Thompson.)
The province says it plans to expand to 13 supersites throughout Manitoba in April. It has hired 1,212 people to help with the vaccination effort.
More than 400 medical clinics and pharmacies have applied to be a part of the immunization campaign once a suitable vaccine is approved for use in these settings.
Manitobans with questions about the vaccination plan and their position in the queue can go to this website or call a toll-free number: 1-844-626-8222.
Ontario’s vaccination rollout is in Phase 1, which covers staff and essential caregivers in long-term care homes, high-risk retirement homes and First Nations elder care homes, and highest-priority health care workers.
As the vaccine supply increases, Phase 1 is expected to move on to adults 80 years of age and older, staff, residents and caregivers in retirement homes and other congregate care settings, high priority health care workers, all Indigenous adults and adult recipients of chronic home care.
Phase 2 is set to begin in March. This phase will add more vaccination sites, including municipally run locations, hospital sites, mobile vaccination locations, pharmacies, clinics, community-run health centres and aboriginal health centres.
Phase 3 covers the general population and is expected to begin by late summer.
The Ontario government is developing an online portal for mass vaccination pre-registration and appointment booking. For those without access to the internet, the province will establish a customer service desk to register and book appointments. Neighbourhood mobile clinics are being planned by local public health units.
For more information about Ontario’s vaccination plan, go here.
Quebec continues to inoculate priority groups such as health care workers on the front lines, those who live in long-term care or seniors’ homes (known as CHSLDs) and those living in remote areas.
Once more vaccines arrive, Quebec plans to expand inoculations to include seniors 70 and up and those with chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
The province has started to prepare by securing mass vaccination sites, such as the Olympic Stadium.
It has already set up mass vaccination sites in major urban centres in anticipation of an increase in the vaccine supply. One of them — the Palais des congrès de Montréal in the heart of downtown — expects to vaccinate up to 2,000 people per day.
Quebec’s health department says it’s planning a public information campaign to inform residents about the vaccination process.
For more information about Quebec’s vaccination plan, go here.
Phase 1 is underway, covering long-term care residents and staff, front line health care staff, First Nations adults and individuals 85 and over.
Phase 2 starts in April and will include residents in other communal settings, health care workers providing direct patient care (such as pharmacists and dentists), firefighters, police officers, home support workers for seniors, people 70 and over, people with complex medical conditions, volunteers at long-term care homes, people 40 and over with three or more chronic conditions and truckers or workers who cross the Canada-U.S. border regularly.
The N.B. government’s website says that details about who can register for vaccination and when will be announced in the coming weeks. Clinic locations are also being finalized.
The province is asking residents to wait for those details instead of tying up resources by calling the provincial tele-care number or their local health practitioners.
Prince Edward Island
P.E.I.’s vaccination effort is in its first phase, which will continue throughout March. Public health nurses had been delivering the vaccines; trained pharmacists were approved recently to administer the doses as well.
Those getting vaccinations in this phase are residents and staff of long-term care homes, health care workers in direct contact with patients who face an elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors 80 and older, adults 18 and older living in Indigenous communities, residents and staff of shared living facilities (such as group homes, shelters and correctional facilities) and truck drivers and other workers who routinely travel out of the province.
Starting February 22, vaccine clinics in P.E.I. will start giving doses to seniors aged 80 and older.
The province says other population groups will be told when they can be vaccinated as the rollout continues. The province expects to have four clinics in operation starting in March — in O’Leary, Summerside, Charlottetown and Montague.
Vaccinations in P.E.I. are by appointment only. When their turns come up, Islanders can book their appointments by calling 1-844-975-3303 or by filling out a form available through this government website.
For more information about Prince Edward Island’s vaccination plan, go here.
Nova Scotia’s vaccination effort is in Phase 1. That covers those who work directly with patients in hospitals or care homes, people who live and work in long-term care homes and people who live and work in adult residential care centres and regional rehabilitation centres.
The next phase will include: anyone who works in a hospital (and might come into contact with patients); doctors, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists and pharmacists; people who live in correctional facilities, shelters and temporary foreign worker housing; people who are required to regularly travel for work (such as truck drivers); people responsible for food security (such as workers in large food processing plants); those aged 75 to 79 and those 80 and older.
N.S. Public Health is holding prototype clinics before deploying vaccines across the province.
The first prototype clinic — for seniors 80 years and older — will be at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax starting the week of Feb. 22. The province is planning to set up clinics in pharmacies as well.
Those at the head of the queue will receive letters from the province explaining how to schedule a vaccination appointment.
For more information about Nova Scotia’s vaccination plan, go here.
Newfoundland & Labrador
Newfoundland & Labrador is in Phase 1 of its immunization plan. Doses in this first phase are earmarked for congregate living settings for seniors, health care workers at high risk of exposure to COVID-19, people 85 and older and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities.
The next group to get shots will include health care workers who were not included in Phase 1, residents and staff of all other congregate living settings and essential workers. These categories are still being defined by the province and its health department says details of future phases are still being finalized.
For more information about Newfoundland & Labrador’s vaccination plan, go here.
Priority groups in Yukon have received their first doses and, in some cases, their second doses as well.
As of Feb. 19, high-risk health care workers and long-term care residents and staff had received their second doses.
Those living in remote rural communities and people aged 65 and older are to start getting their second doses beginning the week of Feb. 22.
Over the past few weeks, every community outside Whitehorse has been visited by one of two mobile vaccine clinic teams (named ‘Balto’ and ‘Togo’) delivering first doses to all residents 18 and over.
In Whitehorse, a mass clinic will open on March 1 that will deliver up to 800 immunizations a day — both first and second doses.
All Whitehorse residents 18 years of age and older can now book appointments for their first shots.
Those living in Whitehorse must book appointments online or by calling 1-877-374-0425. In rural Yukon, where internet connectivity may be an issue, appointments are recommended but walk-ins are welcome.
For more information about Yukon’s vaccination plan, go here.
All NWT long-term care residents have received first and second doses. The NWT COVID-19 vaccine strategy says the general population can expect access to the vaccine in March.
The strategy says enough doses to immunize 75 per cent of eligible residents 18 years of age and older should be delivered by the end of March.
“This generous initial allocation from the federal government recognizes the territories’ limited health care system capacities and the vulnerabilities of remote Indigenous communities,” says the document.
The vaccine schedule and booking tool are now online and will be updated as more doses are delivered.
Those living in larger centres are expected to call or book online for their vaccinations. In smaller communities, meanwhile, dates and locations for vaccination clinics will be advertised and residents will be asked to show up.
Multiple small mobile vaccine units are travelling to 33 communities to help local health care staff administer doses.
For more information on NWT’s vaccination plan, go here.
Nunavut says it expects to have 75 per cent of its population over the age of 18 vaccinated by the end of March.
Nunavut is only using the Moderna vaccine right now and has been staging vaccine clinics in two or three communities at a time.
Beginning next week, seven communities will be getting their first doses of the vaccine.
In Iqaluit, vaccinations are by appointment only and are being directed toward elders 60 or older, those living in community shelters, front line health workers, Medivac flight crews, residents and staff of group homes and Iqaluit’s Akaausisarvik Mental Health Treatment Centre, and residents and staff of correctional facilities.
The next phase in Iqaluit is expected to begin in March.
Nunavut relays COVID-19 information through public service announcements via TV, social media, community radio and the government’s website. The website shows the locations of clinics, their times of operation and contact information.
In the last few decades, we’ve gone from zero known exoplanets to more than 4,000. Scientists have even found a few orbiting the closest stars to our own. A project called Near Earths in the Alpha Center Region (NEAR) has just spotted tantalizing signals that could point to a planet in the habitable zone of Alpha Centauri, which is a mere 4.37 light years away. That’s right next door in astronomical terms.
Our solar system is pretty simple — one star, and a whole mess of planets orbiting it. Centauri is a bit different and consists of three stars. For starters, there’s Proxima Centauri, which is a red dwarf that sits a fraction of a light year closer to Earth. Proxima orbits Alpha Centauri A and B, which are larger, warmer stars like the sun. We know of at least two exoplanets orbiting Proxima Centauri, but a world around the sun-like members of the system would be even more interesting, and there might be one.
The NEAR team used the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile to check out our celestial neighbors. The project pushed for an upgrade to the VLT that included an instrument called a thermal chronograph. This allows astronomers to block out the light from a star to make faint thermal signals easier to detect. After more than 100 hours of cumulative observations, the researchers pinned down what appears to be a thermal signal in the habitable zone of Alpha Centauri A. No one is willing to say this is definitely a planet, but it could be.
The possible exoplanet is labeled here as C1.
The exoplanet, if it exists, is in the habitable zone of the star. That means it could have liquid water, and therefore, the possibility of life. Early analysis suggests the exoplanet is a bit smaller than Neptune. That could mean it’s a small gas giant or possibly a very large rocky planet. If it’s a gas giant, life as we know it is off the table. However, there could be moons orbiting the world that have both liquid water and a solid surface on which life could evolve.
There’s still more work to do before we can add another exoplanet to the list. The team notes the thermal signal could have other explanations, like a region of unusually hot cosmic dust or a warmer, distant object in the background. We’ll need more sophisticated instruments to know for sure. Luckily, the James Webb Space Telescope might finally launch later this year. Its infrared instruments should be able to determine if the thermal signature around Alpha Centauri A is a planet or just background noise.
Canada’s vaccination campaign is off to a slow start — and news this week that deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech product will be reduced dramatically over the next month has further complicated the national rollout.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), has said Pfizer will not ship a single vial of its highly effective vaccine to Canada next week as the pharmaceutical giant retools its production facility in Puurs, Belgium to boost capacity.
The announcement is already prompting some provinces to warn that they will have to curtail appointments in the weeks ahead as they direct the existing supply of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to patients who need their second shots.
Why is Canada getting less vaccine than anticipated?
Pfizer is grappling with unprecedented global demand for its vaccine as the world scrambles to inoculate patients against the deadly novel coronavirus.
While the company had projected it could manufacture up to 1.3 billion shots this year alone, it is now shifting gears to pump out even more.
The company is making upgrades to its Belgian plant so that it can manufacture up to 2 billion doses this year to meet the insatiable demand. In order to complete those upgrades, some production lines will have to be idled and Pfizer won’t have enough vials to go around in the short term to meet its previously promised delivery schedule.
“Pfizer and BioNTech are working relentlessly to support the further rollout of the vaccination campaigns worldwide by not only expanding their own manufacturing capacities but also by adding further suppliers as well as contract manufacturers to increase total manufacturing capacity,” the company said in a news release announcing the disruptions.
Fortin has said that, starting next week, Canada’s deliveries will be reduced by up to 50 per cent over a four-week period, punting as many as 400,000 doses to a later date.
While the company has another manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Mich., the Belgian plant alone is supplying Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom. U.S. deliveries will continue uninterrupted.
Will Canada, the EU and the United Kingdom be equally affected by these disruptions?
No. Announcing the delays last week, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said she expects Pfizer will treat all countries equally as it reduces shipments with an eye to restoring service in February.
But Pfizer isn’t treating every customer the same way. While Canada will receive zero doses next week, the company said it “will be back to the original schedule of deliveries to the European Union beginning the week of January 25.”
Pfizer has promised the EU that it will then “increase delivery beginning week of February 15, resulting in our ability to deliver the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter and significantly more in the second quarter.”
When asked why Pfizer will not make the same commitment to Canada, Anand said that she expects the company to treat all countries equitably — but could not say why Canada has been singled out.
“This was very disappointing and I spent the weekend on the phone with Pfizer executives and my team. We reiterated firmly the importance for Canada to return to our regular delivery schedule as soon as possible,” she said at a press conference Tuesday.
Pfizer did not respond to specific questions about why it is showing more favourable treatment to the EU. In an emailed statement, the company said the details of its agreements with governments are “confidential.”
“Multiple countries around the world will be impacted in the short term in order for us to quickly enable increased production volumes afterwards,” the spokesperson said.
The U.K. delivery schedule is less clear. The government there has said it is “in close contact” with all suppliers so that it can achieve its target of immunizing all those over age 70 by February 15.
So how many doses will Canada receive over the next number of weeks?
It’s hard to say for sure. Fortin had said Canada would see a 75 per cent drop next week in deliveries — but then had to correct that forecast after learning Canada wouldn’t receive a single dose.
Just last week, Fortin had been expecting delivery of 208,650 doses to the provinces every week for the rest of this month. Fortin also said Canada is expected to receive 366,000 Pfizer doses per week in February.
Speaking to the press this week, Fortin conceded those numbers are no longer accurate.
“Those numbers remain to be confirmed by Pfizer Canada. In fact, we have regular conversations with them and we hope and we expect to have clarity on those numbers,” Fortin told reporters at a public health briefing.
Is Canada still on track to get 4 million doses of the Pfizer product by the end of March?
The government has said yes. While the deliveries may change, the government insists its medium-term targets are more certain.
By the end of the first quarter, Canada is expecting four million doses from Pfizer and another two million doses from Moderna — enough to vaccinate some 3 million Canadians with these two-dose products.
WATCH | Canada affected by Pfizer-BioNTechvaccine production delay in Europe:
Federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand made the announcement to reporters in Ottawa on Friday. 2:38
But these delays mean that many people will be kept waiting much longer for shots than they originally anticipated. While deliveries might return to a more normal flow, it will be difficult for provinces to pump through hundreds of thousands of patients in a short timeframe to reach vaccination targets.
The delivery hiccup also could push off the vaccination campaign for the general population, which had a start date of April 1.
Pharmacies have said they could vaccinate as many 2.5 million people per week if all 11,500 community pharmacies in this country are mobilized, but the lack of supply has delayed their participation in the effort.
Data released by PHAC Thursday suggest 10 million more people could be fully vaccinated between April and June, for a cumulative total of 13 million people inoculated since the start of the campaign.
And if other vaccines apart from the Pfizer and Moderna products are approved over that time period, 10 million more patients could complete the vaccine regime by the end of June, for a combined total of 23 million.
The PHAC data also suggest that 36 million Canadians can be vaccinated by the end of September, if all goes well and there aren’t any significant delivery disruptions in the interim.
What is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doing about this Pfizer delay?
While the prime minister of Israel has had more than a dozen calls with the CEO of Pfizer, and the president of the European Union has personally reached out to the company’s leadership, Trudeau has said that Anand is the lead on this file.
“I can assure you that Minister Anand is talking almost daily with Pfizer and the other vaccine companies to ensure that we get as many doses as possible, as quickly as possible, and that work will continue,” he said. “We will not rest, we will not slow down.”
When pressed by Vassy Kapelos, host of CBC’s Power & Politics, to state whether Trudeau has personally contacted Pfizer to ask for more doses, Anand would only say that she has been in “close communication” with the prime minister.
Some observers have said Trudeau should ask U.S. President Joe Biden to temporarily float Canada some vaccines from the Michigan plant as a sign of goodwill — especially after Biden rescinded the presidential permits for the Keystone XL pipeline.
So how are the provinces reacting to all this?
Not well. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said the delivery delays will be very disruptive. The province also has said the temporary stoppage could mean its goal of immunizing all long-term care residents in the province by Feb. 15 won’t be achieved.
“If I was in (Trudeau’s) shoes … I’d be on that phone call every single day. I’d be up that guy’s yin-yang so far with a firecracker he wouldn’t know what hit him,” he said of Pfizer’s executives. “I would not stop until we get these vaccines.”
On Wednesday, Ford called Pfizer Canada President Cole Pinnow to discuss the situation.
“He reiterated the serious impact these cancelled shipments will have on Ontario and sought answers as to why Canada isn’t receiving vaccines as quickly as other countries,” Ford’s office said in a media statement after the call.
Ford also has suggested Biden should “help out its neighbour” by releasing some shots to Canada.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday the province is putting a temporary hold on the first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations to ensure it has enough vaccine to provide a second dose to people who have already received their first shot.
“By pausing first appointments, we can ensure enough vaccine is allocated for committed second-dose appointments,” Kenney said.
How is Canada doing compared to the rest of the world?
Canada has administered some 700,000 shots – roughly 1.7 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna products. In Ontario, about 40,000 people have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
The United States has vaccinated three times more people per capita than Canada.
The U.K., too, has been a world leader in getting shots into the arms of patients. Nearly 7.5 per cent of the British and Northern Irish population has so far received at least one dose.
Canada’s vaccination effort has also been outpaced to date by those in Bahrain, Denmark, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
But according to the latest data collated by the University of Oxford-based Our World in Data, Canada has administered more shots per capita than G7 partners like Germany and France, and middle-income countries like Argentina and Costa Rica.
“I had a lovely conversation with Angela Merkel yesterday morning in which she sort of complained to me that every day she gets it from the German media that they’re not doing as well as Canada,” Trudeau told reporters Tuesday.
“I think a lot of people are comparing stories from country to country and trying to figure out how we can all move quicker.”
The EU authorized the Moderna product for use two weeks after Health Canada regulators gave that vaccine the necessary approvals, which could account for the slower start to vaccination campaigns in countries like Germany.
What about the other promising vaccine candidates?
Health Canada regulators are still reviewing clinical trial data for both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson products. Canada has placed orders for doses from these companies but a delivery schedule is far from certain, given that the regulatory review is still underway.
The U.K. approved the AstraZeneca vaccine on Dec. 30.
The product from Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, has not been approved for use anywhere in the world. Some countries are eager to secure doses of this vaccine because it only requires one shot.
New modelling released by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) suggests the number of daily COVID-19 cases could more than triple to 30,000 if people increase their contacts during a time of widespread community transmission.
The report also projects that if Canadians simply maintain their current levels of contact with people outside their households, case counts will still rise to roughly 13,000 a day from 7,900 now.
The modellers said that, based on current case counts, Canada “remains on a rapid growth trajectory,” with roughly 2,000 more people expected to die over the next 10 days as the country approaches a death toll of 20,000. As many as 100,000 more people could contract the virus over the next week and a half, PHAC said.
“Quick, strong and sustained measures are needed to interrupt rapid growth and maintain COVID-19 control,” PHAC said in its report. “Reducing COVID-19 activity is urgently needed as rollout of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines begins.”
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam told a news conference that the vaccine rollout, which is now protecting priority groups of high-risk Canadians, will not have a big impact on the numbers in the short term.
WATCH / Dr. Theresa Tam on the impact of vaccine on COVID-19 transmission:
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said vaccines alone won’t stop the spread of COVID-19 if a community’s transmission rate is high. 0:43
“In terms of the national projections and the transmission in communities, you’re not going to see that in the initial months, which is why I think our message … is [to] absolutely get on with the public health measures,” she said.
“Do all of those things, don’t do non-essential travel. All that really counts. It works. And when you can suppress that projection, the vaccines have a longer runway.”
Data to determine impact of vaccine rollout
Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said government and external experts are working to determine the impact of vaccine rollouts on the numbers mid- and long-term.
“But at the present time, it’s really difficult to say. There are so many factors involved. Even today, we’re seeing issues in terms of vaccine supply, how vaccines are being rolled out across the country,” he said.
“There’s other factors in terms of the increasing rates of infection in various parts of the country. So there are many different factors in play.”
Right now, Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec are the provinces reporting the highest infection rates per 100,000 people.
Rise in cases post-holidays
Tam said many provinces, including some that had been on a downward trajectory, saw a sharp rise in daily case numbers after the holidays. That’s likely due to people having more contacts over the holidays and reduced testing during those weeks, she said.
Since the holidays, stronger community level public health measures have been adopted across Canada and some areas are showing that public health measures are working to slow growth.
“However, we have yet to see the widespread and sustained declines in daily case counts that would indicate we are bringing the pandemic under control nationally,” she said.
Some 10 months into this pandemic, long-term care homes continue to report hundreds of daily cases.
There are now more than 400 outbreaks nationwide — a situation which is expected to push hospitalization rates higher still. Alberta and Manitoba are reporting the highest rates of hospitalization per 100,000 people.
PM calls LTC deaths ‘tragic’
During a news conference outside his residence at Rideau Cottage today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the outbreaks now occurring in long-term care homes in Ontario and across the country are “tragic.”
“Our parents and grandparents built this country. They raised us. And they deserve so much better,” he said.
“It is vital that we continue to get vaccines to vulnerable people as quickly as we can. And that’s exactly what we’re focused on. But remember – no one is invincible. Even if you’re young and healthy, this virus can be very dangerous. And that’s why we all have to keep doing our part.”
Trudeau said that while vaccines are rolling out across the country, Canadians must reduce their in-person contacts.
“For the moment, that’s the only way to get these numbers down,” he said. “Since yesterday, Ontario is now under a stay-at-home order. This is the kind of tough but necessary decision that provincial governments are having to make.”
PHAC said COVID-19-related deaths are steadily rising and may soon exceed levels seen during the first peak.
Calling the new modelling “alarming,” NDP health critic Don Davies called for stronger federal measures to reduce the spread of the virus.
“The numbers released today paint a very sobering picture,” he said. “COVID-19 is claiming the lives of 145 Canadians every single day and the situation is getting worse. Clearly, what we’ve been doing isn’t working. PHAC’s forecast shows that a stronger response is necessary to slow the alarming spread of COVID-19.”
Canada will take part in the SheBelieves Cup women’s soccer tournament next month alongside the host U.S., Brazil and Japan.
The Feb. 18-24 event at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium will mark the Canadian women’s team’s first action since March 10, 2020 when it wrapped up play at a tournament in France with a 2-2 tie with Brazil.
A Canadian camp scheduled for England in October was called off on the advice of medical experts due to the pandemic.
It will also mark Canada’s first participation at the SheBelieves Cup, which started in 2016, and the debut of Bev Priestman as coach.
“I’m excited to get the team together for the first time to kick off an important 2021 season, as we build towards the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer,” Priestman said in a statement.
“The SheBelieves Cup gives us the opportunity to face some of the top football teams in the world in a tournament setting. It will be a great opportunity to get ourselves ready for the Tokyo Olympic Games, facing different styles of play and tight turnarounds.”
Priestman took over in November
Priestman took over in November from Kenneth Heiner-Moller, who stepped down to take a coaching job in his native Denmark. Priestman spent five years as a coach with Canada Soccer prior to returning to England in June 2018 as assistant coach of the English women’s team.
Canada, tied with Brazil at No. 8 in the FIFA world rankings, is scheduled to open against the top-ranked U.S. on Feb. 18 before facing No. 10 Japan on Feb. 21 and Brazil on Feb. 24.
All four competing teams have qualified for the Tokyo Games with Canada finishing runner-up to the Americans at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship last February.
And all four made the knockout phase of the 2019 World Cup in France. The U.S. won the tournament while Canada, Brazil and Japan were eliminated in the round of 16.
The defending champion Americans have won the SheBelieves Cup three times. France won in 2017 and England in 2019.
Spain, England and Japan also took part in the 2020 event.
The tournament is scheduled during a FIFA international window.
Canada led by Christine Sinclair
Canada will once again be led by star Christine Sinclair.
Much has happened in the world since Sinclair made soccer history in January en route to helping the Canadian women book their ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. The longtime Canada captain added to her remarkable resume by surpassing retired American Abby Wambach’s record of 184 international goals, at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Edinburg, Texas.
WATCH | Sinclair’s record-breaking goal:
Canadian Christine Sinclair scores the 185th goal of her career, passing American Abby Wambach on the all-time goals list. 1:10
Sinclair’s record-breaking year also earned the Canadian soccer icon the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as The Canadian Press female athlete of the year for 2020.
The 37-year-old Sinclair also won the award in 2012 after leading Canada to a memorable bronze medal at the London Olympics. She is the only soccer player to have won the Rosenfeld Award.