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

The latest:

Questions remained Wednesday about the future of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in Canada as Manitoba limited use of the shot, British Columbia later followed suit, and Ontario said it was deciding how it would use an incoming shipment reserved for second dose. Researchers in Oxford, England, also released some early findings from an ongoing study into mixing vaccines. 

They found mixing different types of COVID-19 vaccines — such as an AstraZeneca dose followed by a Pfizer-BioNTech dose — can increase the occurrence of mild or moderate reactions such as fatigue, headache or a fever.

“Whether or not this will relate to actually an improved immune response, we don’t know yet,” said study leader Dr. Matthew Snape, an associate professor in general pediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford. “We’ll be finding out those results in a few weeks’ time.”

The findings were published Wednesday as correspondence, not as a full study, in the medical journal The Lancet.

After initially saying the province would continue to administer first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, British Columbia announced that would stop. 

“Given the limited availability of the AstraZeneca vaccine supply, we are holding all remaining AstraZeneca vaccine for dose-two booster immunizations.” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix in a joint statement. “Existing pharmacy bookings will proceed, but no additional appointments will be accepted at this time.”

Ontario — which has stopped administering AstraZeneca as a first dose over concerns about a rare clotting disorder — announced it will receive a quarter-million doses of the vaccine next week but is still reviewing when it will open appointments for second doses.

There is also a lack of clarity for people in Quebec who received a first dose of AstraZeneca. In a statement Tuesday, the Health Ministry said it has hardly any doses of AstraZeneca left and the few that remain are only available to those 45 and up.

Alberta, too, has stopped offering the shot to those who have yet to be vaccinated, but cites a lack of supply for the move.

| Ontario’s health minister on 2nd doses of AstraZeneca:

Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province is awaiting guidance from health regulators and advisory committees before it makes two key decisions: what to do with AstraZeneca vaccines after first doses were paused and if two different COVID-19 vaccines can be mixed. 1:30

Manitoba said Wednesday that it plans to offer first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine only to those who might not be immunized at other sites.

Most doses will be held for second shots for people who received an AstraZeneca vaccine in the first go-around, the province said, “in response to ongoing evidence and supply.” Manitoba said it will receive about 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca in its next shipment.

Saskatchewan is pausing first doses of AstraZeneca, citing supply issues. 

In Nova Scotia, Premier Iain Rankin says more than 1,000 residents who had appointments booked for the AstraZeneca vaccine have cancelled them, opting instead for an mRNA vaccine.

| Nova Scotians avoiding AstraZeneca: 

Saying ‘more and more’ Nova Scotians are deciding not to take AstraZeneca in favour of mRNA vaccines, Premier Iain Rankin said the province will stop using AstraZeneca entirely until further notice. 1:24

The uncertainty over AstraZeneca has concerned some who already received their first dose of that vaccine, are undeterred by the risk of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT), and want their second dose. 

More than two million Canadians have received AstraZeneca and 17 have been confirmed to have VITT. Three women have died.

| Feeling concerned about your AstraZeneca vaccine? Here’s why one doctor says you shouldn’t: 

Ontario’s outbreak response co-ordinator, Dr. Dirk Huyer, says taking a first dose AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine was “so much the right thing” for people to have done — and explains why. 1:17

For his part, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who received a first dose of AstraZeneca on April 23, said his doctor told him he should get a second shot of the same vaccine.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who received a first dose of AstraZeneca one day earlier, says he will follow public health advice on what vaccine to get for his second dose.

Experts have noted that the risk of clotting is much higher among people diagnosed with COVID-19 than those who received the AstraZeneca shot.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser has said that, from an authorization perspective, AstraZeneca’s benefits against COVID-19 still outweigh the rare risk of VITT.

– From The Canadian Press, the CBC’s Lauren Pelley, and CBC News, last updated at 6:45 p.m. ET. 

What’s happening across Canada

| Other doctors ready to help in Ontario, says expert:

Many internationally trained doctors are ready to work in Ontario but some are being held back by policy decisions, says Dr. Shafi Bhuiyan, chair of the Internationally Trained Medical Doctors Network. 5:00

As of 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had reported 1,305,776 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 76,676 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 24,766.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 2,320 new cases of COVID-19 and 32 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the hard-hit province stood at 1,673, with 776 people in ICU due to COVID-related illness.

In Quebec, health officials on Wednesday reported 745 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 additional deaths.

Across the North, Nunavut was the first territory to report updated figures on Wednesday, saying there were eight new cases of COVID-19. Premier Joe Savikataaq said on Twitter there were “69 active cases in the territory — all in Iqaluit.”

Health officials in the Northwest Territories reported two new cases; there were no new cases in Yukon.

In Atlantic Canada on Wednesday, New Brunswick reported nine new cases of COVID-19, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported 10.

Nova Scotia reported 149 new cases of COVID-19, and announced it will now offer four paid sick days to anyone who needs to take time off because of the virus. 

Prince Edward Island reported no new cases, and is dealing with nine active cases. 

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba on Wednesday reported 364 new COVID-19 cases and three new deaths. The province has opened vaccination appointments to everyone aged 18 and up. Health officials say supplies have been increasing steadily, and everyone aged 12 and up should be eligible to get a first dose in the first half of June.

| COVID-19: How much protection is in the 1st dose of vaccine?

Two infectious diseases doctors answer viewer questions about COVID-19 vaccines, including how much protection people get from the first dose and how variants may change that. 8:03

Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 183 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and two additional deaths. The province was dealing with the fallout of a “miscommunication” that left more than 250 pharmacies scrambling to cancel vaccine appointments after a supply issue. 

Alberta on Wednesday reported 1,799 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths linked to the virus. Oilsands workers at one of the province’s largest workplace outbreaks of the virus have told CBC News they are scared, don’t feel safe, and have to keep working when sick — or risk losing their pay. 

British Columbia on Wednesday reported 600 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death. 

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

What’s happening around the world

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 160 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tool from Johns Hopkins University that tracks cases. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.3 million.

COVID-19 deaths in the United States have tumbled to an average of about 600 per day — the lowest level in 10 months — with the number of lives lost dropping to single digits in well over half the states and hitting zero on some days.

Confirmed infections, meanwhile, have fallen to about 38,000 per day on average, their lowest mark since mid-September. While that is still cause for concern, they have plummeted 85 per cent from a peak of more than a quarter-million cases per day in early January.

The last time the number of deaths was this low was in early July, nearly a year ago. COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. topped out in mid-January at an average of more than 3,400 a day, just a month into the biggest vaccination drive in the nation’s history.

Pharmacist Kyro Maseh prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at his pharmacy in Toronto on April 20. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The overall U.S. death toll stands at about 583,000, and teams of experts consulted by the CDC projected in a report last week that new deaths and cases will fall sharply by the end of July and continue dropping after that.

The encouraging outlook stands in sharp contrast to the catastrophe unfolding in places such as India and Brazil.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called Wednesday for a doubling of COVID-19 vaccine production and for fairer redistribution of the shots in the developing world.

The International Federation of the Red Cross says coronavirus cases are surging in Asia, with more than 5.9 million confirmed infections over the past two weeks. That’s more than in all other regions of the world combined.

India’s coronavirus deaths crossed a quarter-million on Wednesday in the deadliest 24 hours since the pandemic began, as the disease rampaged through the countryside, overloading a fragile rural health-care system.

People stand in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination site at Grand Central Terminal train station on Wednesday in New York City. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Boosted by highly infectious variants, the second wave erupted in February to inundate hospitals and medical staff, as well as crematoriums and mortuaries. Experts are still unable to say with certainty when the figures will peak, cautioning that case and death numbers could be significantly higher than reported.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is vowing to hold a safe Tokyo Olympics, even as some hospitals in Japan struggle to find beds and many Japanese people desperately wait for vaccinations. 

Last month, Suga declared a third state of emergency in Osaka, the center of the current surge in cases, as well as in Tokyo and two other areas. That has been extended through May 31. Only one per cent of the Japanese public has been fully vaccinated, even as millions of doses sit unused in freezers because of staff shortages.

In the Americas, Mexico plans to start a late-stage clinical trial this month for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by China using similar technology to shots from Moderna and Pfizer, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.

In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic will be held next year and that the government has a responsibility to learn lessons from it.

A grieving relative of a COVID-19 victim is consoled by another at a crematorium in Jammu, India, on Wednesday. (Channi Anand/The Associated Press)

Pope Francis returned to holding audiences with the faithful in person on Wednesday after a nearly six-month interruption due to COVID-19.

In the Middle East, Kuwait has suspended flights and barred entry to travellers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka until further notice, state news agency KUNA said.

In Africa, South Africa on Tuesday reported 1,548 new cases, bringing the total number of reported cases to nearly 1.6 million.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 5:35 p.m. ET

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