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N.B. top doctor says coronavirus variants are ‘game changer’


New Brunswick has stepped up restrictions in part of the province in the face of rising variant cases, with the province’s top doctor saying the goal is to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Edmundston area “before it gets an even stronger grip than it has now.”

In Atlantic Canada, health officials reported 34 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday — with the vast majority of them in New Brunswick. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said 24 of the 30 cases reported in New Brunswick on Thursday were in the Edmundston region, in the northwest of the province.

“Just when it seemed like things were getting better and we’re entering the last period of this pandemic, the game has changed again,” Russell said at a briefing announcing the circuit-breaker restrictions, which will be in place for at least four days. “And the game changer really is the variants.”

Variant cases are “really daunting” because of the increased transmissibility and the difficulty of keeping cases contained, she said.

Russell said the B117 strain first identified in the U.K. is responsible for 62 per cent of the cases in the Edmundston area.

Slowing the spread will require “a lot of interventions” and targeted actions, she said, but also a renewed effort and co-operation from the public as the province rolls out vaccines. Russell said New Brunswick is aiming to give every adult who wants a vaccine their first dose by mid-June.

Nova Scotia, meanwhile, reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while Prince Edward Island reported one new case.

There were no new cases reported in Newfoundland and Labrador, which as of Thursday had just one active case of COVID-19 and no patients in hospital.

What’s happening across Canada

As of early Friday morning, Canada had reported 951,568 cases of COVID-19, with 38,923 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,790.

Health officials across the country have been expressing concern about increasing case numbers linked to variants of concern. As of Thursday evening, a federal website that posts figures reported by the provinces and territories had reported more than 7,100 variant cases, including:

  • 6,611 cases of the B117 variant first reported in the U.K.
  • 257 cases of the B1351 variant first reported in South Africa.
  • 236 cases of the P1 variant originally linked to tourists from Brazil.

In Quebec, health officials reported 945 new cases and four additional deaths on Thursday. Hospitalizations stood at 496, with 117 COVID-19 patients listed as being in the province’s intensive care units.

Meanwhile, the province’s Health Department confirmed Thursday that Quebecers who’ve had a confirmed COVID-19 infection will only need a single dose of vaccine, which will act as an immunity booster.

Ontario reported 17 additional deaths and 2,380 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, though health officials noted that about 280 cases were included as part of a data catch-up. Hospitalizations in Ontario, according to figures released to the public by the province, stood at 894, with 332 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

The scientific director of an expert panel advising the province said Thursday that a strict provincial shutdown, similar to one imposed when the pandemic hit, is needed to curb the alarming spread of variants in Ontario. Currently, even the strictest level of the province’s pandemic framework isn’t enough to reduce rising infections from more contagious variants, Dr. Peter Juni, of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told The Canadian Press.

“We need stronger, more strict public health measures to keep the new variants contained enough to avoid tremendous challenges for the health-care system.”

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 111 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and one additional death.

In Saskatchewan, meanwhile, health officials reported 168 new cases and two additional deaths. In the Regina area, which is facing stepped up restrictions in the face of mounting variant cases, health officials said 84 per cent of the cases reported were variants of concern.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, said on Thursday that Regina is not the only part of the province seeing an increase in variant cases.

“This just reinforces that while we have significant measures in Regina right now, all of us all throughout Saskatchewan should continue to observe everything we’ve been doing,” he said. He urged people to be “very cautious” and shield people who are older and at higher risk.

Alberta reported 764 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and three additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 294, with 55 COVID-19 patients reported to be in intensive care.

In British Columbia, health officials reported 800 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and five additional deaths. In a statement, the province said of the active COVID-19 cases in the province, 306 were in hospital including 79 in intensive care.

Across the North, health officials in Yukon reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including its first known case of a variant of concern. In a statement, health officials said one of the cases, in a non-resident who travelled into the territory earlier this month, isn’t considered a local case.

“This is a reminder that Yukoners must remain vigilant. COVID-19 is always lurking around the corner,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley said in a statement.

There were no new cases reported in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories.

What’s happening around the world

Demonstrators gather for a rally decrying New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 outbreak, on Thursday in New York. Cuomo, in his third-term as New York governor, is battling controversies on multiple fronts.(John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

As of early Friday morning, more than 125.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which runs a coronavirus case-tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.

In Africa, Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday announced a halt to all movement in the capital, Nairobi, and four other countries on Friday as the COVID-19 outbreak reached its worst ever stage in East Africa’s richest economy.

In a televised address, Kenyatta said a wave of new lockdown measures, including a stricter curfew, the suspension of in-person schooling and the closing of bars in the capital, were essential to fight the COVID-19 spread.

In the Asia-Pacific region,Australia is considering diverting COVID-19 inoculations from its vaccination program to Papua New Guinea, where the coronavirus is threatening to unleash a humanitarian disaster, a government source said.

South Korea said it will extend its coronavirus distancing rules, which include an outside dining curfew and ban on gatherings of five or more people, for two weeks.

In Europe, a senior European Union official says 55 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered to EU member states in the second quarter of this year, starting next month.

The EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, says the bloc will receive another 120 million doses of the single-shot jabs between July and September.

Breton spoke Friday during a visit to a plant in northeastern Spain where the vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical company Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, is being bottled. It is one of four vaccines approved for use in the EU.

COVID-19 patient Joan Soler Sendra, 63, looks at his family members after watching the sea as part of a ‘sea therapy’, 114 days after he was admitted to Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, on Thursday.(Nacho Doce/Reuters)

He said the EU will be producing two or three billion doses by end of year, making it the world’s top vaccine manufacturer, and allowing 70 per cent of the EU population to be inoculated by mid-July.

France’s president, meanwhile, said he has nothing to be sorry about for refusing to impose a third virus lockdown earlier this year, even as his country is now facing surging infections that are straining hospitals and more than 1,000 people with the virus are dying every week.

Emmanuel Macron’s government has stressed the importance of keeping children in school and businesses afloat as the pandemic stretches into a second year.

“We were right not to implement a lockdown in France at the end of January because we didn’t have the explosion of cases that every model predicted,” he said late Thursday night. “There won’t be a mea culpa from me. I don’t have remorse and won’t acknowledge failure.”

Medical workers work in an intensive care unit where people suffering from COVID-19 are treated at Cambrai hospital, France, on Thursday.(Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

For months France has championed a “third way” between confinement and freedom, including a nationwide curfew and closing all restaurants, tourist sites, gyms, large shopping malls and some other businesses.

Many doctors and scientists have been urging the French government for weeks to impose stronger restrictions, notably because of the more contagious and more dangerous virus variant first identified in Britain.

“A zero-virus situation doesn’t exist and that’s true for every country in Europe. We’re not an island and even the islands who’d protected themselves sometimes saw the virus come back,” Macron said. “But we considered that with the curfew and the measures we had, we could cope.”

France has recorded the fourth-highest number of virus infections in the world, and among the highest death tolls, at 93,378. Intensive care units are again at or beyond capacity in Paris and several other regions because of a new surge of critically ill virus patients.

Norway will delay its decision on whether to resume the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, broadcaster TV2 reported.

In the Middle East, Lebanon’s private sector is stepping in to speed up the vaccination campaign against coronavirus by importing at least a million doses of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine. The move aims at reopening businesses around the small country that has been hit by an unprecedented economic crisis.

The first batch of 50,000 doses arrived early Friday, making Lebanon one of few nations where the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is being boosted by private sector initiatives. Lebanon, a tiny nation of six million people including around one million Syrian refugees, began its inoculation campaign in mid-February after finalizing a deal for some two million doses with Pfizer.

In the Americas, Colombia has approved emergency use of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, the director of food and drug regulator INVIMA said.

A nurse inoculates a teacher on Thursday with a dose of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination day for the education sector at a school in downtown Caracas.(Ariana Cubillos/The Associated Press)

Argentina has decided to suspend flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico starting on Saturday to prevent variants of the coronavirus from entering the country.

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca


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