Some provinces are strengthening public health measures amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, with Quebec on Thursday tightening restrictions in regions of concern and B.C. announcing a new workplace closure order to deal with outbreaks.
In Quebec, Montreal and the suburb of Laval are seeing their curfew return to 8 p.m. starting on Sunday, Premier François Legault announced at an afternoon news conference.
Legault said even though transmission rates are currently stable in the Montreal area, he wants to prevent the situation from worsening.
“The level of contagion is very high and we expect it to accelerate even more,” Legault said.
As well, stricter lockdown measures that are in place in Quebec City, Lévis, Gatineau and Beauce are being extended.
Schools, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, hair salons and other non-essential businesses will now remain closed in those regions until at least April 18. Religious gatherings will also be limited to 25 people and the overnight curfew will remain at 8 p.m. until at least that date.
Quebec on Thursday reported 1,609 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. A provincial dashboard put the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at 566, with 132 people reported to be in the province’s intensive care units.
Meanwhile, British Columbia reported a record high of 1,293 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the spread is fuelled by social gatherings that then spread into workplaces.
“It is not OK to have friends and family over right now. It is not OK to go on a weekend getaway. That is not essential — nor is your ski trip just because you have a pass. It is not OK to have a wedding, a birthday. All of these need to be postponed for now,” she said.
Henry announced a new workplace closure order that will allow WorkSafeBC to operate under the Public Health Act. When three or more employees at a workplace test positive for COVID-19, it will be closed down for 10 days.
Essential workplaces like police departments, fire stations and grocery stores are exempt.
The province also reported two additional COVID-19 deaths on Thursday. There are currently 336 people in hospital, with 101 in intensive care, officials said.
– From CBC News and the Canadian Press, last updated at 7 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
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As of 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 1,036,029 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 64,430 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,211.
Health officials in Ontario on Thursday reported 3,295 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 additional deaths. According to data published by the province, hospitalizations stood at 1,417, with 525 people in intensive care units “due to COVID-related illness.”
The latest figures came after a stay-at-home order came into effect across Ontario in response to worsening COVID-19 trends in the province.
“The reality is, despite everything we’ve done so far, the COVID-19 situation in Ontario is getting worse as these new variants continue to spread,” Premier Doug Ford said at a briefing announcing the order on Wednesday. “Our hospitals are reaching capacity and patients in the GTA must now be sent to other parts of the province for care.”
Under the stay-at-home order, stores that sell goods such as groceries, cleaning supplies and pharmacy products can remain open but only to sell essential items. Non-essential retail can open for curbside pickup or delivery only.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. There are 20 people in hospital due to COVID-19, the most in the province since the pandemic began, including 13 in intensive care.
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Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut on Thursday.
Yukon’s chief medical officer of health said Wednesday it’s too early to lift COVID-19 restrictions in the territory. This despite the fact that Yukon has no new COVID-19 cases and about 68 per cent of residents have received at least one vaccine dose.
Dr. Brendan Hanley says there are too many cases involving variants in neighbouring jurisdictions and there’s a territorial election taking place.
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In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 139 new cases and three additional deaths on Thursday. The province also announced its first death linked to the B117 coronavirus variant first reported in the U.K., a man in his late 70s from the Winnipeg health region who died in late March.
Saskatchewan reported 205 new cases and two additional deaths on Thursday. There are 206 in hospital due to COVID-19, including 41 people in intensive care.
Starting Friday morning, anyone in the province 55 and over will be eligible to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.
Meanwhile, Alberta reported 1,429 new cases and three new deaths on Thursday. Hospitals were treating 340 patients for the illness, including 83 people in ICU beds.
People infected with highly contagious variants now make up about 45 per cent of all active cases in the province, health officials said.
Vaccination clinics are set to open at the Cargill meat-packing plant in southern Alberta, officials announced earlier in the day. An outbreak last spring saw at least 950 employees — nearly half its workforce — test positive and was linked to three deaths.
– From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 7 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Thursday evening, more than 133.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University case-tracking tool. The global death toll stood at nearly 2.9 million.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday warned of the risk of a permanent divergence in the global economy, and urged major economies to strive to provide significant amounts of new fiscal support to secure a robust recovery.
In a statement to the steering committees of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Yellen underscored the need to continue supporting the world’s poorest countries as they grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and high debt burdens.
She urged the World Bank to support developing countries and ensure they get timely access to COVID-19 vaccines, and said the U.S. supported accelerated negotiation to replenish the World Bank’s International Development Association fund for the poorest countries.
The African Union has dropped plans to buy COVID-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India and is exploring options with Johnson & Johnson, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters on Thursday.
The institute will still supply the AstraZeneca vaccine to Africa through the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, said Dr. John Nkengasong, but the African Union would seek additional supplies from Johnson & Johnson.
In the Asia-Pacific region, new coronavirus cases in India hit a record Thursday at 126,789, while deaths rose 685 in the past 24 hours, the highest since November.
Dozens of cities and towns are imposing night curfews to try to contain the surge but the federal government has refused to impose a second nationwide lockdown for fear of hurting the economy.
Indonesia’s health minister said the schedule for around 100 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines faced delays.
Health officials in South Korea said they will decide whether to resume administering AstraZeneca vaccines to people 60 and younger over the weekend. The injections were paused while regulators in Europe reviewed a possible link between the shots and rare blood clots.
Australia, meanwhile, has moved to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine by recommending it not be given to people under 50. The announcement came after drug regulators held a series of urgent meetings earlier in the day.
The Philippines suspended use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for people under 60 to investigate reports about blood clots.
In Europe, Spain plans to join other European nations in limiting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias said after meeting with regional health chiefs Wednesday that authorities will limit the use of the vaccine in those over 60.
The decision came after the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots.
Last week, Germany and France limited the vaccine to elderly groups, and earlier Wednesday British authorities recommended that the vaccine not be given to adults under 30. Belgium said Wednesday it would not allow its use for people under age 56.
The EMA advised no such age restrictions, saying the benefits of the vaccine far exceed the very rare cases of thrombosis.
In the Americas, Mexico’s president says he plans to get the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to boost confidence in the shot.
The vaccine is one of several being used for people over 60 in Mexico’s current round of vaccinations. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, 67, say the benefits far outweigh any risks of a rare blood-clotting disorder.
In Brazil, the country saw a new record of 4,249 coronavirus deaths in a day. More than 345,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, making it the second-deadliest outbreak of COVID-19 after the United States.
In the Middle East, Iran has hit a new coronavirus infection record for the third straight day, reporting 22,586 new cases. The country is grappling with a spike after millions defied government guidance against gathering and travelling during Nowruz, the nation’s biggest holiday.
The new case count Thursday pushes Iran’s total during the pandemic over two million. The additional 185 reported deaths increased the confirmed total to 63,884 deaths in the country of 83 million.
The Gulf Arab kingdom of Bahrain has announced that starting next month, residents who can prove that they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be able to attend gyms, indoor restaurants, mass sporting events, conferences, spas and cinemas.
– From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 9:05 p.m. ET