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New cases of COVID-19 infections across Canada are trending upward, public health authorities reported on Wednesday in a worrisome development that comes amid new concerns over vaccine supplies.

Thousands of new cases on average and 31 deaths were being reported daily, the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement. The bottom line, the agency said, was that people still face a serious risk of contracting the disease.

“Amid increasing case counts, shifting severity trends, and a rising proportion of cases involving variants of concern in heavily impacted areas of Canada, we need to remain vigilant,” a statement from the agency said.

“Maintaining public health measures and individual precautions is crucial to reducing infection rates and avoiding further spread of new variants.”

While vaccinations offer some hope for containing the pandemic, concerns about supplies were rekindled after India put a halt to exports of its AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine citing its own shortages, the Reuters news agency reported.

The federal government had no immediate comment on the report, but did say possible new European Union restrictions on vaccine shipments would not affect Canada. The EU was expected to move Wednesday toward stricter export controls for COVID-19 vaccines amid a surge in new infections and concerns about domestic supply shortages.

A spokeswoman for International Trade Minister Mary Ng said Canada would work with the EU to ensure the country’s essential medical supply chains remained open.

“Our expected shipments of vaccines have been arriving in Canada,” Youmy Han said in a statement late Tuesday. “We are on track to receive 9.5 million doses by the end of March.”

-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:30 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

A security guard gestures as people arrive at the City of Toronto-operated mass COVID-19 vaccination site in East York Town Centre on Wednesday. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

As of early Thursday morning, Canada had reported 946,375 cases of COVID-19, with 37,099 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,759.

In Atlantic Canada, health officials reported 18 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — 12 in New Brunswick, five in Nova Scotia and one in Prince Edward Island. There were no new cases reported in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the province’s top doctor announced an easing of restrictions.

“This time around, we will all need to do things a little differently. I think it’s safe to say we were all startled by this outbreak and how rapidly it escalated and we don’t want to be taken by surprise again,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Wednesday.

Fitzgerald said case counts, including those involving variants of the coronavirus, have been rising in other parts of Canada.

“We will almost certainly see another variant case in the province,” she said. For that reason, wearing a mask will still be as important as ever, officials stressed.

Nova Scotia‘s government is set to release its budget on Thursday, a first for new Premier Iain Rankin.

Quebec is also set to release a budget on Thursday, its first since the outbreak of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 10,620 people in the province. 

The budget will come a day after health officials reported 783 new cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 508, with 118 COVID-19 patients listed as being in the province’s intensive care units.

The provincial government in Ontario unveiled its budget on Wednesday, offering a spending plan aimed at helping the province recover from the COVID-19 outbreak.

It contains $6.7 billion for pandemic-related measures, including $1 billion for the vaccine effort, and an additional $2.3 billion for testing and contact tracing this year. The plan projects a deficit of $33.1 billion for the year, with the province saying it will take until 2029 to balance the books.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 1,571 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 additional deaths. According to provincial data, hospitalizations stood at 893, with 333 COVID-19 patients listed as being in intensive care. Data from Critical Care Services Ontario showed an even higher figure for ICU cases with 383.

In Manitoba, health officials reported 81 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and no additional deaths. The province has temporarily halted its expansion of eligibility for vaccinations. Instead, the age will stay at 65 and up (and 45 and up for Indigenous people) for the time being as health teams deal with existing appointments and the province waits for more supply. 

Saskatchewan, meanwhile, said the province will now extend its inoculation program to anyone over age 65. In addition, people aged 50 and older in the Far North can book shots, as can priority health-care workers, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said.

In Alberta, health officials reported 692 new cases and two additional deaths on Wednesday. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, cautioned that the province may need to ramp up restrictions in the face of rising cases of variants of concern.

“What we know is that in other places where variant strains have become dominant … additional restrictions have been required,” Hinshaw said Wednesday. Hospitalizations stood at 285, with 53 COVID-19 patients reported to be in intensive care unit beds.

British Columbia reported 716 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations stood at 303, health officials said, with 85 in intensive care units.

Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 7 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

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As of early Thursday morning, more than 124.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to a tracking site operated by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.

In Africa, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control says he is concerned by reports that the Serum Institute of India is suspending major exports of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in order to meet rising domestic demand.

Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said Thursday that he “truly feels helpless that this situation is going to significantly impact our ability to fight this virus.”

He said that “without ramping access to vaccines we will be challenged, continue to be challenged. Lives will be lost.”

The fight against COVID-19 has to be “a collective battle,” Nkengasong went on, noting that he remained hopeful “that the power of humanity will prevail.”

The BBC and Reuters have reported that the Serum Institute of India is temporarily suspending vaccine exports to meet local demand amid a rise in confirmed virus infections in India. The Indian vaccine manufacturer is the source of the AstraZeneca shots being shipped to Africa under the COVAX initiative working to ensure access for low- and middle-income countries. At least 28 of Africa’s 54 countries had received over 16 million doses via COVAX as of Thursday.

Nkengasong said: “There is absolutely no need, absolutely no need for us as humanity to go into a vaccine war to fight this pandemic. We will all be losers.”

In the Americas, the U.S. has surpassed 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. Coronavirus cases nationwide reached 30,001,245 on Wednesday, nearly three months after the country hit 20 million. COVID-19-related deaths now total more than 545,000.

The new milestone comes as public health experts show cautious optimism three months into the U.S. vaccination rollout. It is believed that 70 per cent of Americans 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine and COVID-19 deaths are below 1,000 a day on average for the first time since November.

The federal government is dramatically ramping up vaccine production and several states have already expanded vaccination eligibility to people age 16 and up.

A woman lays a rose on top of a mattress symbolizing COVID-19 victims during a protest by the Rio de Paz human rights activist group outside a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday. (Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

Brazil, meanwhile, has reached 300,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and become the second nation to top that figure. 

Wednesday’s coronavirus figures from the Brazilian health ministry added another 2,009 deaths to the country’s tally, which local media say is an undercount.

On Tuesday, Brazil hit a single-day record of 3,251 COVID-19 deaths and authorities fear that April could be as grim as March in the country’s overwhelmed hospitals. Brazil added 100,000 deaths to its tally in only 75 days, a spike health experts have blamed on a lack of political co-ordination, new variants that spread more easily and a disregard for health protocols in many parts of the country.

In Europe, Poland reported a record daily number of new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row as the prime minister prepared to give details of harsher restrictions for the Easter period.

Hungary’s hospitals are under “extraordinary” pressure from rising coronavirus infections, its surgeon general said, as the country became a hot spot in the third wave of a pandemic that has hit Central Europe especially hard.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Sri Lanka has decided to purchase seven million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The government said it will pay $69.65 million US for the shots.

Sri Lanka aims to inoculate 14 million people out of the population of 22 million. So far, over 850,000 people have received their shots using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Sri Lanka has received 1.2 million AstraZeneca doses out of at least 10 million it plans to purchase for $52.5 million. It has also approved China’s Sinopharm shots. Of the 1.2 million doses, Sri Lanka got 500,000 as a donation from India and bought another 500,000. The other 264,000 came through the COVAX facility.

In the Middle East, clerks at the largest cemetery in Jordan barely have a moment to themselves as people rush to pay for graves to bury relatives amid a record surge of deaths from COVID-19.

The cemetery on the outskirts of the capital saw at least 50 burials on Tuesday, a day after the health ministry announced 109 COVID-19 deaths, the kingdom’s highest daily tally. The surge in the last two months, blamed on the fast spread of the B117 variant first identified in Britain, has put Jordan’s infections and deaths above most of its neighbours and reverses months of success in containing the outbreak.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET

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