Some provincial authorities saw encouraging signs in the fight against COVID-19 on Monday, even as experts warned that it’s too soon to draw conclusions from the data and provinces scrambled to deal with a looming shortage of Pfizer vaccines.
As of early Tuesday morning, Canada had reported 715,072 cases of COVID-19, with 73,919 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,120.
Officials in both Quebec and Manitoba noted that case numbers have dropped slightly in recent days and suggested that their populations’ efforts to control the virus could be paying off.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said case numbers in his province appeared to be dipping.
“We’re definitely not out of the woods,” he told a news conference as the province reported 118 cases. “We certainly still have a long way to go before we can return to normal.”
Roussin said the province is looking at easing some restrictions in the coming days, but that any changes would be gradual.
Quebec reported 1,634 new COVID-19 cases, which included about 200 from the previous day that weren’t noted because of a delay. The province had broken the 3,000-case mark in early January and has a seven-day rolling average of more than 1,900 cases a day.
Health Minister Christian Dubé noted on Twitter that the Quebec City region in particular had seen a decline in the number of new infections recently, which he saw as a sign that “the sacrifices that we’re asking of Quebecers are bearing fruit.” However, he asked Quebecers to continue their efforts in order to reduce the number of hospitalizations, which rose Monday after three straight days of decline.
Universite de Montreal public health professor Benoit Masse said it will take another week or two to know whether the downward trend will be sustained and to gauge the impact of the recently imposed curfew. He said the province should know more by Feb. 8, when curfew restrictions are set to lift.
Ontario also reported its lowest number of COVID-19 cases since early January, with 2,578 new infections, but the province completed a little more than 40,000 tests Sunday, compared with more than 60,000 the day before.
British Columbia reported 301 new cases on Monday, its lowest increase in over two months. However, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the risk of spreading the virus remains high.
She said there is increased transmission in the Interior and Northern health regions because of social gatherings, which are what caused a jump in infections in B.C.’s Lower Mainland a few months ago.
The news was less positive in New Brunswick, where the Edmundston region entered the province’s highest pandemic-alert level, ushering in new restrictions on businesses in the region after a record-breaking number of new cases on Sunday. The province reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday after recording 36 the day before.
Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 290 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths.
Across the North, there were no new cases confirmed in the Northwest Territories, though officials are investigating probable cases in Fort Liard. There were no new cases reported in Yukon or Nunavut.
Vaccine supply questions
Provinces were also reviewing their vaccine programs to contend with a reduced supply of Pfizer-BioNTech doses after the company said last week it was cutting back on promised deliveries over the next month as it works to expand production.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that his province was pausing appointments for people to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine due to the supply shortage.
“Even with a new shipment of Pfizer expected later this week, we won’t have enough supply to continue with new first-dose appointments,” he said, noting that the province had set aside vaccines for people who were due for their second doses, and those appointments would continue. Alberta reported 474 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 11 additional deaths.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, had a similar message as her colleague in Manitoba on Monday, saying Alberta is “making progress” but is “not out of the woods yet.”
Manitoba stopped booking new appointments over the weekend, but health officials announced Monday that those bookings would resume, with room for about 4,000 new appointments this week and next.
Ontario also acknowledged it was working with a supply crunch that would see its next two shipments of Pfizer vaccine reduced by 20 per cent and 80 per cent respectively. Health Minister Christine Elliott said the situation would last until late February or early March when larger shipments begin to arrive.
The province announced that a new hospital set to open in Vaughan would be used to relieve a capacity crunch because of rising COVID-19 admissions. Elliott and Premier Doug Ford said the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital would add 35 new critical care beds and 150 medical beds to the province’s bed capacity.
Hospital capacity has been a concern in many provinces, with doctors in Ontario and Quebec being told to prepare for the possibility of implementing protocols to decide which patients get access to life-saving care in the case of extreme intensive care unit overcrowding.
Nationally, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are still increasing, according to Canada’s chief public health officer. Dr. Theresa Tam noted that hospitalizations tend to lag one or more weeks behind a surge in cases.
“These impacts affect everyone, as the health-care workforce and health system bear a heavy strain, important elective medical procedures are delayed or postponed, adding to pre-existing backlogs,” she wrote in a statement.
She said an average of 4,705 COVID-19 patients a day were being treated in Canadian hospitals during the last seven days, including an average of 875 in ICUs.
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:55 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
WATCH | WHO chief warns of ‘catastrophic moral failure’ over vaccine distribution:
As of early Tuesday morning, more than 95.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, with more than 52.7 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.
In the Americas, U.S. president-elect Joe Biden’s incoming White House press secretary says his administration does not intend to lift coronavirus travel restrictions for Europe, the U.K., Ireland and Brazil.
The message from Jen Psaki came Monday evening after the White House said President Donald Trump had lifted the restrictions for those countries, effective Jan. 26. Psaki then tweeted: “On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.”
She went on: “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Trump imposed the travel restrictions early in the pandemic to slow the spread of the coronavirus to the U.S. They prevented most people without American citizenship or residency from travelling to the U.S. from the affected regions.
Brazil kicked off a nationwide COVID-19 immunization program on Monday by distributing doses of a vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech following an emergency use authorization, although the pace of vaccination will depend on delayed imports.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday the government aimed to compensate for a reduction in deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer Inc. with those from other providers.
South Africa, which has yet to receive its first coronavirus vaccine doses, will be getting nine million from Johnson & Johnson, the health ministry said. The hardest-hit country in Africa, South Africa has seen more than 1.3 million reported cases and more than 37,000 deaths.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the government will extend physical distancing measures due to expire this week as the city remains on heightened alert after the number of COVID-19 infections climbed back into triple digits.
China was dealing with coronavirus outbreaks across its frigid northeast on Tuesday, prompting additional lockdowns and travel bans ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. The country reported another 118 cases on Tuesday, with 43 of those in the province of Jilin. Hebei province just outside Beijing saw another 35 cases, while Heilongjiang province bordering Russia reported 27 new cases.
Beijing, where some residential communities and outlying villages have been placed under lockdown, reported just one new case.
A fourth northern province, Liaoning, has also imposed quarantines and travel restrictions to prevent the virus from further spreading, part of measures being imposed across much of the country to prevent new outbreaks during the holiday.
Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.
Hebei’s provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, has been building a complex of prefabricated housing units to allow the quarantine of more than 3,000 people as it struggles to control more infections.
China has reported a total of 88,454 cases and 4,635 deaths since the novel coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. China does not include people who test positive but have no symptoms in its count.
A multinational team of investigators from the World Health Organization is currently in Wuhan undergoing two weeks of quarantine before beginning field visits in hopes of gaining clues into the origins of the pandemic.
New Zealand said it was looking to secure a small batch of COVID-19 vaccines early to protect its high-risk workers, as pressure mounts on the government to vaccinate its population.
Pakistan on Monday approved the Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, a government statement said, two days after AstraZeneca’s vaccine developed with Oxford University received a similar authorization.
In Europe, eurozone finance ministers pledged continued fiscal support for their economies on Monday and discussed the design of post-pandemic recovery plans as the European Commission warned the COVID-19 crisis was making the bloc’s economic imbalances worse.
Norway has pledged to help fight the global pandemic by donating vaccines to low-income countries as soon as the vaccines are approved, its foreign aid minister said Tuesday.
“Ensuring COVID-19 vaccines reach people in the world’s poorest countries isn’t just about being charitable or acting on a moral imperative. It’s also in the best interest of every country to do so,” Dag-Inge Ulstein, the Norwegian minister for International Development, told The Associated Press.
“If the virus is circulating in one country, the rest of the world remains at risk.”
Ulstein gave no timeframe or figures for vaccine quantities but said the rollout will take place “in parallel to the current vaccination of the Norwegian population.”
Norway’s move came a day after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lambasted drugmakers’ profits and vaccine inequalities around the world.
Swiss authorities, meanwhile, have started mass-testing residents and visitors in St. Moritz after a new variant of the coronavirus was detected in the upscale ski resort area.
People were asked to register online and come in for free tests to a local gym and a beverage store on Tuesday after two luxury hotels were put under quarantine Monday. All schools, kindergartens and skiing schools were closed.
Officials said at least two dozen cases were detected in the two hotels, which local media identified as the Palace and the Kempinski hotels. The Kempinski said late Monday that health authorities had confirmed cases of the mutated coronavirus among the hotel’s employees.
“Local health officials have ordered that all guests and staff at the hotel should be quarantined to minimize exposure to the public,” a spokeswoman for Kempinski told The Associated Press. “The hotel is strictly following the advice of the local health authorities and World Health Organization guidelines.”
All people in St. Moritz who were five and older were asked to participate in the test, which was voluntary. Swiss media reported that the variant detected in St. Moritz was first found in South Africa.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 8:50 a.m. ET