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

The latest:

  • California issuing waivers allowing hospitals to temporarily bypass the nation’s only strict nurse-to-patient ratios as COVID-19 cases surge.
  • EU makes a deal for 300 million additional doses of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
  • U.K. regulators approve Moderna vaccine, the 3rd to be OK’d for use in the country.

Elementary students in southern Ontario will be learning at home for at least another two weeks, the province’s top doctor said Thursday, after health officials reported 3,519 new cases of COVID-19, another single-day high.

Health officials in Ontario also reported 89 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,856.

The province said that elementary students in 27 southern Ontario regions will continue with online learning until Jan. 25. In northern Ontario, elementary students will return to class as scheduled on Jan. 11, but the broader shutdown in the sprawling region will be extended another two weeks to align with the rest of the province.

Canada’s most populous province has seen rising case numbers in several communities and the strain on the health-care system is mounting. As of Thursday, 1,472 COVID-19 patients were in hospital, with 363 in the province’s intensive care units.

Hospitals in hard-hit regions are being told to prepare to transfer patients within their region and even outside it, CBC’s Mike Crawley reports.

In a memo dated Thursday obtained by CBC News, Ontario Health president and CEO Matthew Anderson said all hospitals, “must be ready to accept patient transfers when directed by their regional COVID-19 response structure.”

Neighbouring Quebec, which recently updated its restrictions and announced a four-week curfew, is also facing a strained health system. As of Thursday, the province was reporting 1,380 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 202 people in intensive care units.

Quebec, which reported 2,519 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 74 deaths, is opening elementary schools as planned on Jan. 11, with high schools to open a week later.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick officials expressed concern after reporting 24 additional COVID-19 cases Thursday, a slight decrease from Wednesday’s single-day record of 31.

“The current situation is the worst we have seen so far during this pandemic,” said New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell.

In Nova Scotia, health officials reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while Prince Edward Island reported one new case. There were no new cases reported in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Health officials in Manitoba, reported 201 additional COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with 12 additional deaths. Restrictions on gatherings and business openings are set to expire Friday, however Premier Brian Pallister said earlier this week that he didn’t expect any significant change.

“We still have a high number of cases in acute care. We still have surgeries and diagnostics being deferred,” Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s acting deputy chief of provincial public health, said during a conference call Thursday.

Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 334 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths on Thursday.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said restrictions in place since mid-December banning private gatherings will remain until at least Jan. 21. Classrooms, however, will reopen as planned on Monday.

In central Alberta, the Red Deer hospital is feeling the strain of rising COVID-19 caseloads.

“Our intensive care has now overflowed into coronary care, which means patients in coronary care are now being managed in other areas of the hospital,” said Dr. Kym Jim, an internal medicine specialist at Red Deer Regional Hospital.

Across the North, there were three new cases reported in Yukon on Thursday, with no new cases in the Northwest Territories. In Nunavut, Agnico Eagle said in a news release Thursday that a worker had tested positive for COVID-19 in late December and been flown to their home province and instructed to follow local public health rules.

British Columbia‘s top doctor, meanwhile, said COVID-19 restrictions that were set to expire Friday have been extended to Feb. 5.

Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the extension while reporting eight more deaths and 761 new cases of COVID-19, saying the spike is partly related to changes in streamlining its reporting. However, the curve of the second wave in B.C. is trending up again, Henry said Thursday.

“If we see positive trends in our cases and our hospitalizations … we will monitor that as well,” said Henry. “Right now, we need to hold the line.”

As of early Friday morning, Canada had reported 635,143 cases of COVID-19, with 80,289 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 16,579.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, updated at 6:55 a.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

A nurse dons personal protective equipment to attend to a patient in a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Community Hospital on Wednesday in the Willowbrook neighbourhood of Los Angeles. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

As of early Friday morning, more than 88.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 49.1 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 case tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.9 million.

In the Americas, the U.S. alone has seen more than 21.5 million cases of COVID-19 and 365,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. More than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths were reported on Thursday alone, according to the U.S.-based university. The New York Times, which has also been tracking COVID cases and deaths in the U.S, put the number of deaths reported Thursday even higher, at 4,111.

Facing a massive surge in coronavirus cases, California has been issuing waivers allowing hospitals to temporarily bypass the nation’s only strict nurse-to-patient ratios.

Nurses say that being forced to take on more patients is pushing them to the brink of burnout and affecting patient care.

At least 250 of about 400 hospitals in California have been granted 60-day waivers. They allow ICU nurses to care for three instead of two people and emergency room nurses to oversee six patients instead of three.

Nurses in other states have demanded law-mandated ratios like those in California but so far have failed to get them.

Brazil, which has seen more than 7.9 million cases of COVID-19, passed a grim milestone as its death toll surpassed 200,0000. The health ministry said Thursday that the country had 1,524 deaths in the previous 24 hours, rising to a total of 200,498 for the pandemic.

Mexico, meanwhile, continues to see record increases in coronavirus cases, with a 24-hour caseload of 13,734 confirmed infections setting a new high for the second consecutive day.

In Europe, the executive branch of the European Union has secured 300 million extra doses of the coronavirus Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Speaking during a news conference in Brussels on Friday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement will double the number of doses ordered by the 27-nation bloc. The EU commission later said in a statement that the commission has proposed to member states to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the vaccine, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.

“This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU. The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021,” the EU said.

Combined with the contract finalized with Moderna — the second vaccine authorized so far in the region — Von der Leyen said the EU now has the capacity to vaccinate 380 million people, more than 80 per cent of the EU population.

The news from the EU comes as Britain authorized a coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, the third to be licensed for use in the country.

The Department of Health said Friday that the vaccine meets the regulator’s “strict standards of safety, efficacy and quality.”

Britain has ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, though it is not expected to be delivered to the U.K. until spring.

So far Britain has inoculated 1.5 million people with two other vaccines.

“Vaccines are the key to releasing us all from the grip of this pandemic, and today’s news is yet another important step towards ending lockdown and returning to normal life,” Business Secretary Alok Sharma said.

Germany, meanwhile, reported a record 1,188 daily COVID-19 deaths on Friday, only days after further tightening a national lockdown.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan is considering extending a state of emergency from the Tokyo metropolitan area to other regions as cases increase, a move that could heighten the risk of a double-dip recession for the world’s third-largest economy.

A police officer asks people to refrain from going out after 8 p.m. in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo on Friday during the first day under a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

Beijing shut places of worship and authorities restricted access to a highway to the city of Shijiazhuang, which is battling a new cluster of infections.

Travellers to Australia will have to show a negative COVID-19 test before they can board their plane, as Brisbane went into lockdown after the discovery of a case of a virulent new variant.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, meanwhile, reported its first COVID-19 death 10 months after initially detecting the virus and managing to keep the disease under control by largely sealing off the country.

In the Middle East, Israel tightened a national lockdown in a bid to curb a sharp rise in new cases, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising that all Israeli adults could be vaccinated by the end of March.

South Africa, the hardest-hit nation in Africa, said this week it will import 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate the country’s health workers.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:30 a.m. ET

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