Coronavirus infections may be about to hit a plateau in the United States based on recent seven-day averages, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, though the top U.S. infectious disease expert cautioned the country was still in a “very serious situation” with the virus.
At a White House briefing Thursday, Fauci also said that if 70 to 80 per cent of Americans are vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could experience “a degree of normality” by the fall.
The pandemic has killed 410,000 people and infected more than 24.6 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Fauci said coronavirus vaccines can be modified to account for new variants of the virus, and that while the variant first identified in South Africa is concerning, it does not appear to be in the United States.
Another highly transmissible variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom has spread to at least 20 U.S. states, Fauci said.
Fauci said he expects current vaccines will be effective against the recently discovered virus mutations.
“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it for our alternative plans if we have to ever modify the vaccine,” he said. “But right now, from the reports we have … it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them.”
The United States still has a limited ability to track the presence of new variants in its population, he noted.
Biden sets COVID-19 plan into motion
Fauci praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to “let the science speak” in contrast to the previous Trump administration, standing by his side earlier Thursday as Biden unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office.
“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.
WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions:
Biden also made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives,” he said.
Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.
The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defence Production Act,” according to the plan.
The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.
The president has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.
As of Thursday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 17.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine out of some 38 million distributed.
Biden has also rescinded Trump’s planned withdrawal from the World Health Organization.
The new president has put fighting the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice, and has proposed a $1.9-trillion US COVID-19 package that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from the coronavirus.
The House of Representatives is planning to bring the bill to a vote the first week of February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.
– From Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 725,495 cases of COVID-19, with 68,413 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,462.
In Ontario, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall as the province reported 2,632 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, along with 46 more deaths.
While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.
WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says:
Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.
The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.
At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.
WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:
Alberta, like Ontario, has seen its long-term care homes particularly hit hard during the pandemic.
To date, 988 of the province’s 1,500 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.
CapitalCare Lynnwood in west Edmonton is the site of Alberta’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 55 lives lost. A total of 262 cases have been linked to the outbreak, Alberta Health said in a statement to CBC News.
WATCH | Other COVID-19 vaccines awaiting approval could mean more choice:
New Brunswick continues to see a spike in COVID-19 infections, reporting 32 new cases on Thursday as officials declared an outbreak at another Edmundston care home.
At a COVID-19 briefing, the province’s chief medical officer of health said the situation in the Edmundston region remains “gravely concerning.”
There are now 113 cases in that area, “the largest number of any zone in the province,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Premier Blaine Higgs said that a complete lockdown of the Edmundston region has been discussed and looks “likely” to happen in the days ahead.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
– From CBC News, last updated at 9:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 97.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 53.8 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea reported 346 new cases on Friday, its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in two months as officials express cautious hope that the country is beginning to emerge from its worst wave of the pandemic.
Health authorities have clamped down on private social gatherings since late December, including setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people. The 1,241 infections reported on Christmas Day were the country’s largest 24-hour jump of the pandemic.
In Africa, Mali plans to buy more than 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and expects to start a vaccination campaign in April, the council of ministers said in a statement on Thursday.
The sprawling country of about 20 million has recorded just over 7,900 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins.
In the Middle East, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that China had approved delivery of a second consignment of the CoronaVac vaccine and 10 million doses could arrive in Turkey by this weekend.
Turkey has already received an initial consignment of three million doses of the vaccine, produced by Sinovac Biotech, and has so far vaccinated more than 1.1 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people.
In the Americas, Mexico has posted new one-day highs for the pandemic, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths related to COVID-19.
Mexico has recorded over 1.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 146,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. However, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.
Officials also said Thursday that hospitals remained at 89 per cent capacity in Mexico City, which is the current centre of the pandemic in Mexico.
In Europe, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England decreased slightly in the latest week but prevalence overall remained high, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday.
The ONS estimated that around one in 55 people had COVID-19 within the community population in England in the week ending Jan. 16, a lower prevalence than the estimate of one in 50 people in the last full infection survey published two weeks ago.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 8:45 a.m. ET