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

The latest:

  • U.S. joins WHO program aimed at boosting COVID-19 fight.
  • WHO says coronavirus unlikely to have leaked from Chinese lab.
  • Travellers arriving in England will face fines, even prison for breaking hotel quarantine rules.
  • Canadians with pandemic benefit debt to get one year of interest relief from Ottawa, says source.
  • B.C. on track to begin mass COVID-19 vaccinations in March, health officials say.
  • Have a question about the coronavirus pandemic? Send your question to

A U.S. official told a World Health Organization meeting on Tuesday that Washington would participate in a program to boost COVID-19 testing, diagnostics and vaccines as it joins global efforts to respond to the pandemic.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the announcement, which follows confirmation last month that Washington under President Joe Biden will remain in the Geneva-based agency. Former president Donald Trump criticized the agency and halted funding.

“We want to underscore the commitment of the United States to multilateralism and our common cause to respond to this pandemic and improve global public health,” Colin L. McIff, acting director at the Office of Global Affairs in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said at a WHO virtual meeting.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is continuing to express concerns about vaccine inequity, noting that 75 per cent of doses have been deployed to just 10 countries. (Fabrice Coffrini/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

The meeting in Geneva aims to help fill a $27-billion US funding gap for the WHO-backed program, called the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator Facilitation Council, that is aimed at broadening global access to COVID-19 fighting tools.

The United States had previously been an observer to ACT.

The United States, the top donor to the WHO, has pledged $4 billion. WHO’s special envoy for the ACT Accelerator, Andrew Witty, a former GlaxoSmithKline CEO, said discussions on further support from the United States were ongoing.

In the same meeting Tedros expressed fresh concerns about vaccine inequity, noting that 90 per cent of countries rolling out COVID-19 vaccines are wealthy and that 75 per cent of doses have been deployed to just 10 countries.

South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize who co-chairs the meeting, called these “alarming and disappointing numbers which we need to change.”

– From Reuters, last updated at 10:30 a.m. ET

What’s happening in Canada

As of 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had reported 809,142 cases of COVID-19 — with 40,175 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 20,835.

British Columbia will begin mass COVID-19 vaccinations in March, with people over 80 first in line for the shot, health officials say.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided the update Monday on B.C.’s vaccination program, which has been delayed by a lack of supply from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. She said fresh doses are now on their way again.

So far, a total of 154,496 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the province, including 12,111 second doses.

Henry said she is watching closely to see if and when it will be safe to lift the current restrictions on daily life. In the meantime, she urged people to stick close to home this upcoming Family Day weekend.

Meanwhile, other provinces announced some easing of restrictions on Monday. In New Brunswick, officials moved the Moncton and Edmundston regions into a less restrictive alert level starting at midnight.

The update came as the province reported two new cases on Monday — its lowest daily number in the new year so far.

In Ontario, the provincial government laid out its plan to gradually lift stay-at-home orders, with three public health units to be the first to see the order lifted on Wednesday.

Other regions are staying in the grey lockdown phase for now, but the province is making some changes to the restrictions they face. Chief among them is that non-essential retailers will be allowed to open their doors with a 25 per cent capacity limit.

Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:

– From CBC News, last updated at 10:30 a.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

As of Tuesday morning, more than 106.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 59.4 million of those cases listed as recovered or resolved by Johns Hopkins University, which maintains a case tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 2.3 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, a World Health Organization team has concluded that the coronavirus is unlikely to have leaked from a Chinese lab and is more likely to have jumped to humans from an animal.

WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek announced that assessment Tuesday at the end of a visit by a WHO team that is investigating the possible origins of the coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

On the vaccine front, India’s government has ordered 10 million more doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from the Serum Institute of India.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Sputnik-V has become the third COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by Pakistan for emergency use, the country’s health minister said.

In the Middle East, dozens of asylum seekers and foreign workers in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv lined up to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday as part of an initiative to inoculate the city’s foreign nationals.

French nuns living in Israel register as they wait to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at a Tel Aviv medical centre on Tuesday during a campaign to vaccinate foreign workers and refugees against the coronavirus. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran has launched a vaccination drive, focusing initially on hospital intensive care personnel, as the hardest-hit country in the region awaits enough vaccines for its general population.

In Africa, Ethiopia has secured nine million doses of COVID-19 vaccines up until April and hopes to inoculate at least a fifth of its 110 million people by the end of the year, the health minister said.

In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris “virtually toured” a federally supported mass-vaccination site Monday in Glendale, Ariz. The drive-thru 24-hour facility at the State Farm Stadium is giving one COVID-19 shot about every 10 seconds.

Biden and Harris have promised to open 100 similar sites across the country in the coming weeks and have called on Congress to provide funding for even more. Biden has ramped up federal support for the facilities through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pentagon.

The president said he is ahead of pace to deliver on his promise of providing 100 million injections in the first 100 days of his presidency, saying, “I think we’ll exceed that considerably.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that more than 22 million doses have been given since Biden’s inauguration less than three weeks ago.

A Florida resident gets vaccinated at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando on Monday. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/The Associated Press)

In Europe, Germany is planning to spend nearly 9 billion euros ($13 billion Cdn) this year to buy up to 635.1 million COVID-19 vaccines as part of the European Union’s procurement scheme and national deals.

Hungary will start vaccinating people suffering no chronic diseases with Russia’s Sputnik vaccine soon, the surgeon general said, becoming the first European Union country to use it.

Meanwhile, some countries are also ramping up measures to curb COVID infections. Travellers arriving in England face fines and even prison if they flout rules as part of a hotel quarantine policy designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 variants from the most at-risk countries, British health minister Matt Hancock said on Tuesday.

“We will be putting in place tough fines for people who don’t comply. This includes a 1,000-pound ($1,775 Cdn) penalty for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory test,” Hancock told Parliament.

“Anyone who lies on the passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they’ve been in a country on the red list in the 10 days before arrival here, will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.”

Sweden plans to restrict the number of passengers on long-distance trains and buses in an effort to prevent a pick-up in new COVID-19 cases and the spread of mutations of the virus that could be more infectious, the government said on Tuesday.

– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10:30 a.m. ET

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