Indoor gatherings of any size remain a risk, says B.C.’s top doctor

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British Columbia's top doctor is again calling on people not to gather inside, pointing to the increased transmissibility of the B117 variant and saying it is "much easier to spread it with even minimal contact in indoor settings."

British Columbia's top doctor is again calling on people to follow the current guidelines and not gather inside, pointing to the increased transmissibility of the B117 variant and saying it is "much easier to spread it with even minimal contact in indoor settings."

As of Monday evening, a tracking site maintained by federal officials showed 1,240 reported cases of the B117 variant in B.C. alone. Across the country, there have been 5,117 reported cases of the variant, which was first reported in the U.K.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said indoor gatherings of "any size" remain a risk and urged people to follow public health guidelines and only gather in small groups of up to 10 outside.

"The areas where we know it spreads most quickly and most dangerously are the same as they were last year — but now there's even less a margin for error," Henry said Monday as she provided updated COVID-19 figures for the weekend.

"This is a time where we need to take those little sacrifices — all of us — so that we can continue to keep those important workplaces open, we can continue to support our children to be in school, and we can continue to support our immunization programs so that we can all be safe very soon."

Under the current restrictions in place in B.C., social gatherings of any size aren't allowed inside homes with "anyone other than your household or, if you live alone, your core bubble."

Henry said that while more people are getting their shots every day, it's important for people to understand that the risk "for all of us remains high."

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said Monday on Twitter that Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec are reporting the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases involving more transmissible variants.

Variants of concern are "moving quickly," Henry said. "To counter that, we continue to be slow and steady and to find our balance, our path to get to those brighter days — which are not that far away now."

As of Monday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province stood at 303, including 80 in critical care, Henry said.

An average of 595 cases of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVID19</a> over the last three days in B.C., as the province's trendline continues to curve upward. <br><br>Active cases now highest since January 10, hospitalizations now over 300 for the first time since January 27. <br><br>15 new deaths. <br><br>Today's chart. <a href="https://t.co/CHDv3cdrlg">pic.twitter.com/CHDv3cdrlg</a>

&mdash;@j_mcelroy

Adrian Dix, the province's health minister, reiterated Henry's call and said indoor gatherings remain a "major problem" in B.C.

"If you are thinking of going out for a birthday celebration or someone invites you to a wedding celebration somewhere — do not go right now."


What's happening across Canada

As of 10:35 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had reported 940,270 cases of COVID-19, with 36,110 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,725.

Ontario on Tuesday reported 1,546 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. According to provincial data, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 868, with 324 in intensive care units.

People aged 75 years and older in Ontario on Monday began booking their vaccine appointments through a provincial online portal and a call centre, while pharmacies in three public health units started administering the AstraZeneca shots to those aged 60 and older.

In Atlantic Canada, health officials reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday — eight in New Brunswick and two in both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. No new cases were reported in Prince Edward Island.

In Quebec, health officials reported 712 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths on Monday. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 513, with 114 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 66 new cases and one additional death on Monday.

Meanwhile, in Saskatchewan, health officials reported 205 new cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus and no additional deaths. Concerns about a growing number of the more infectious COVID-19 cases in the Regina area have prompted some school divisions to restart online learning.

In Alberta, health officials on Monday reported 456 new cases and five additional deaths. The update came as Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the province would not be moving into the next phase of its reopening, saying that will happen only when hospitalizations are under 300 and on a "clear downward trajectory."

"Today, while hospitalizations are indeed below 300, they've risen in recent days," he said Monday. "The decline that we saw in January and early February has stopped. Alberta now sits at 280 COVID hospitalizations, which is a rise of 16 from a week ago."

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


What's happening around the world

Israeli electoral workers dressed in full protective gear wait as a COVID-19 patient casts his ballot at the Sheba Medical Centre in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, on Tuesday during Israel's fourth national election in two years. (Yossi Zeliger/AFP/Getty Images)

As of early Tuesday morning, more than 123.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.

In Europe, a leading European Union official has lashed out at the AstraZeneca vaccine company for its massive shortfall in producing doses for the 27-nation bloc, and threatened that any shots produced by them in the EU could be forced to stay there.

Sandra Galina, the chief of the European Commission's health division, told legislators on Tuesday that while vaccine producers like Pfizer and Moderna have largely met their commitments, "the problem has been AstraZeneca. So it's one contract which we have a serious problem."

The European Union has been criticized at home and abroad for its slow rollout of its vaccine drive to citizens, standing at about a third of jabs given to their citizens compared to nations like the United States and United Kingdom.

Galina said the overwhelming responsibility lies with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was supposed to be the workhorse of the drive, because it is cheaper and easier to transport and was supposed to be delivered in huge amounts in the first half of the year.

"We are not even receiving a quarter of such deliveries as regards this issue," Galina said, noting that AstraZeneca could expect a response from the EU. "We intend, of course, to take action because, you know, this is the issue that cannot be left unattended."

The EU already closed an advance purchasing agreement with the Anglo-Swedish company in August last year for up to 400 million doses.

Meanwhile, Germany is extending its lockdown until April 18 and calling on citizens to stay at home over the Easter holidays to try to break a third wave of the pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, as the country races to vaccinate its population.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has received his first shot of AstraZeneca's vaccine as he plans to attend June's Group of Seven meetings in Britain.

Moon on Tuesday received his shot at a public health office in downtown Seoul along with his wife and other presidential officials who plan to accompany him during the June 11-13 meetings.

Moon's office said he was feeling "comfortable" after receiving the shot and complimented the skills of a nurse who he said injected him without causing pain. The office said Moon will likely receive his second dose sometime around mid-May.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a health-care centre in Seoul on Tuesday.(Lee Jin-wook/Yonhap/The Associated Press)

South Korea launched its mass immunization program in February and plans to deliver the first doses to 12 million people through the first half of the year, including elders, front-line health workers and people in long-term care settings.

Officials aim to vaccinate more than 70 per cent of the country's 51 million population by November, which they hope would meaningfully slow the virus and reduce risks of economic and social activity.

In the Americas, Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning that a surge of coronavirus cases in Europe could foreshadow a similar surge in the United States. Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor, is urging Americans to remain cautious while the nation races to vaccinate its citizens.

In an interview on ABC's , Fauci said he is "optimistic" of the vaccines' effectiveness and expressed hope that AstraZeneca's vaccine could join the arsenal of inoculations.

He deemed it an "unforced error" that the company may have used outdated data in a clinical trial, perhaps casting doubt on its effectiveness. But he says Americans should take comfort knowing the FDA would conduct an independent review before it was approved for use in the United States.

Uruguay confirmed that it had detected the presence of two coronavirus variants that originated in neighbouring Brazil as the tiny South American nation faces a spike in cases and deaths.

In Africa, Nigeria suspended the airline Emirates from flying into or out of its territory last week after the carrier imposed additional COVID-19 test requirements on passengers from the country, the aviation minister said.

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