Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Friday

The latest:

  • Trudeau announces deal to buy AstraZeneca’s potential vaccine.
  • Canada surpasses 150,000 coronavirus cases reported since January.
  • Quebec urges limited social gatherings, while Ontario takes new approach to testing.
  • Ontario offering COVID-19 testing in pharmacies starting today. 
  • Half of new cases of COVID-19 linked to bars and restaurants, says Manitoba’s top doctor.
  • Partial lockdown expanded in Spain’s capital.
  • Disneyland Hong Kong opens as city’s cases fall.
  • Moscow mayor urges older people to stay at home after spike in infections.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government has reached an agreement with AstraZeneca to secure up to 20 million doses of a potential vaccine the U.K.-based pharmaceutical company is developing with the University of Oxford, should clinical trials be successful.

Trudeau made the announcement during a news briefing on Friday with health officials and Procurement Minister Anita Anand, who said, “We have to be ready to act as soon as approvals are in place.”

In addition to previously announced agreements with a number of other companies — including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline — Canada could have access to a total of 282 million vaccine doses.

Trudeau also spoke of Canada’s participation in the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers.

“Our government will invest an additional $440 million for the COVAX Facility to provide doses around the world for Canadians and for people in developing countries. Up to $220 million of this investment will go directly toward securing doses for Canadians,” he said.

The coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 illness, is worsening with caseloads spiking in the four largest provinces over the past few weeks.

WATCH | Bridging pandemic learning gaps:

Students often experience learning gaps after a summer break, but the extended time away from school because of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue worse and is further complicated by inequalities in what resources students have at home. 2:01

In a televised address Wednesday, Trudeau warned Canada is “on the brink of a fall that could be much worse than the spring,” when the country went into a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Trudeau’s government, meanwhile, is reverting to a practice used throughout the pandemic last spring to urgently fast-track emergency aid legislation through Parliament.

The government introduced on Thursday legislation aimed at producing a more generous, flexible employment insurance system, along with the creation of three new temporary benefits to help those who’ve lost their jobs or had their hours drastically reduced due to the pandemic.

WATCH | Push for increased mask wearing — even outside:

Desperate to avoid another series of COVID-19 lockdowns, health officials and experts are pushing for Canadians to wear masks in more situations, even in more outdoor situations and around loved ones. 2:00

The new benefits will also apply to those who are forced to take time off work because they are ill, forced to self-isolate or stay home to care for a dependent who is ill or in isolation.

The new regime ensures benefits of $500 a week — the same as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which comes to an end on Saturday.

What’s happening in the rest of Canada

As of 11:30 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had 150,141 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 128,990 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,293.

Quebec recorded 637 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the highest daily number since May 21.

Health Minister Christian Dubé is urging people to minimize non-essential gatherings and cancel Thanksgiving plans in an attempt to slow the increase in COVID-19 cases. He says the contagion is being driven by community transmission at events such as family gatherings, private parties, funerals and weddings.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé pulls off his mask as he arrives for a news conference about the pandemic on Thursday at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Ontario tweaked its approach to asymptomatic testing on Thursday as many centres in the province have struggled with long lineups. Back-to-school demand has contributed to a processing backlog of nearly 54,000 tests.

Back in May, Premier Doug Ford said anyone who wanted a test for COVID-19 should arrange to get one, with or without symptoms. He’s now saying the province needs to focus on people who actually need a test and not those who go to an assessment centre “because they’ll feel a little more comfortable.”

Asymptomatic people can still make an appointment at up to 60 pharmacies across the province to get tested — starting today — but that also only applies to those in certain higher-risk categories, including anyone who has contact with a known case or have a loved one in long-term care.

WATCH | Pharmacist reacts to changing guidance on asymptomatic testing:

As COVID-19 testing gets underway in some Ontario pharmacies, an Ottawa pharmacist says his team is working hard to keep up as guidelines evolve. 1:22

On Friday, Ontario reported 409 new cases of COVID-19 — a majority in three regions — with 204 cases in Toronto, 66 in Peel Region and 40 in Ottawa.

Alberta reined in its broad asymptomatic testing last week, limiting it to close contacts of confirmed cases and high-risk groups.

Manitoba’s chief public health officer on Thursday said half of the province’s COVID-19 cases in recent weeks have been in people who have visited bars, pubs and restaurants as it reported 37 new cases, the bulk in Winnipeg.

“We have cases that have attended more than one bar in the evening while symptomatic, one of which had more than 36 contacts,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.

What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 32.2 million. More than 983,000 people have died, while over 22.2 million have recovered.

Hong Kong Disneyland has reopened for the second time as the semi-autonomous Chinese city again appears to have brought new coronavirus cases down to near zero.

The resort shut down during the initial stage of China’s outbreak when Hong Kong closed schools and offices. Disneyland reopened after cases dropped off but then was shut again once infections began to climb again over the summer.

The resort reopened Friday with physical distancing measures for lines, restaurant seating, rides and other facilities, along with more frequent cleaning and disinfecting in the areas with the most visitors.

Visitors wearing face masks pose as they take a selfie with Disney characters during the reopening day of Disneyland in Hong Kong, after a second closure due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Hong Kong’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism, and the government has been moving steadily to bring back business without sparking new outbreaks.

Hong Kong reported seven new cases on Friday for a total of 5,056 and 104 deaths, according to China’s National Health Commission.

Mainland China reported eight new cases, all brought from outside the country. No new cases of local transmission have been reported in 40 days, with the death toll remaining at 4,634 among 85,322 cases recorded since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Moscow authorities have issued a recommendation for the elderly to stay at home and for employers to allow as many people as possible to work remotely, following a rapid growth of coronavirus cases in the Russian capital.

On Friday, health officials reported 7,212 new cases, the highest daily surge since June. In Moscow, the number of new daily infections started to grow last week and was up to over 1,500 on Friday from under 700 two weeks ago.

Women wearing face masks and gloves leave a subway station in Moscow on Friday. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

“None of us want to return to severe restrictions (that were in place) this spring. I hope we can avoid that,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote in his blog.

Sobyanin urged people over 65 years old and those suffering from chronic illnesses to stay at home starting from Monday, limit their contacts with others and leave their residence only when necessary. Employers are recommended to allow as many people as possible to work from home, disinfect the workplace regularly, observe physical distancing guidelines and use personal protective equipment in offices.

In Spain’s capital, health authorities are expanding restrictions on movement to eight more areas of Madrid, despite a recommendation from the national government that the partial lockdown should apply to the entire city.

Spanish soldiers work at a coronavirus patient tracking centre in Palma de Mallorca on Thursday. (Jaime Reina/AFP via Getty Images)

Over 850,000 residents have been confined to 37 neighbourhoods this week unless they have a valid reason to leave. The maximum number of customers allowed in shops and restaurants also was reduced to half of the capacity.

The regional government’s move to increase the number of covered areas to 45 would affect 160,000 more people.

The regional government said Friday that the designated areas are where more than 1,000 people per 100,000 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past two weeks, the highest rates in Europe.

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