N.B. top doctor says coronavirus variants are ‘game changer’

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Hair salons and outdoor fitness classes in Ontario can reopen with restrictions in regions that are under lockdown, the province announced Friday. The announcement comes as the province reported 2,169 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 additional deaths.

Toronto is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine effort to residents aged 70 and older. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Hair salons and outdoor fitness classes in Ontario can reopen with restrictions in regions that are under lockdown, the province announced Friday.

The provincial government announced the changes to its pandemic response framework today, allowing more activities under the strictest level. It said personal care services like hair and nail salons can open with limits in regions under lockdown as of April 12, and outdoor fitness classes can start on Monday.

The government also said it will allow the province's top doctor to advise an immediate shutdown of most in-person services and retail if COVID-19 is threatening to overwhelm a region.

The announcement comes as Ontarioreported 2,169 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 12 additional deaths. Hospitalizations increased to 913, according to provincial data, with 359 in intensive care units.

Reporting from Critical Care Services Ontario put the number of patients with COVID-19-related illness in the province's ICUs even higher, at more than 400. (The number posted online by the province daily doesn't include patients who have been in hospital for more than two weeks.)

The update comes a day after the scientific director of an expert panel advising the province said that a strict provincial shutdown, similar to one imposed when the pandemic hit, is needed to curb the alarming spread of variants in Ontario.

Dr. Peter Jüni of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table told the Canadian Press that the current strictest level of the province's pandemic framework isn't enough to reduce rising infections from more contagious variants.

The provincial government also announced it will impose stricter restrictions on two regions as of Monday due to rising case counts. Hamilton will move into the "grey" lockdown zone and the Eastern Ontario Health Unit will move to the second-strictest red control category.

Toronto expanding vaccine rollout

Toronto is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine effort to residents aged 70 and older. Starting Saturday, individuals born in 1951 and earlier can schedule their shot through the province's booking portal.

The city said the expanded age group will be able to book vaccinations at three of the city's mass immunization clinics this weekend and two more as of Monday.

Toronto Mayor John Tory says the number of residents signing up for vaccines has been decreasing since the city opened up bookings to those aged 75 and older earlier this week.

Tory says the city has almost 30,000 appointments available over the coming week and encouraged those eligible to get their shots.

The province said as of Thursday night, more than 71 per cent of Ontario residents aged 80 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine.


What's happening across Canada

As of 2:35 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 954,822 cases of COVID-19, with 39,671 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,812.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Canada is seeing a surge in COVID-19 vaccine supply, and she expects that to continue despite recent export restrictions from the European Union.

Anand says six million more doses of approved vaccines are expected to flow into Canada over the next three weeks. That would match the six million doses Canada has received since the approval of the first COVID vaccine in December.

Earlier, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said updated forecasting and data shows that COVID-19 "still has a few tricks in store." She urged people to hold on and follow public health guidelines as vaccination efforts ramp up.

"While the news of increasing disease activity and shifting trends in severe outcomes is discouraging after so many months of sacrifice, we've made significant progress — and as the warmer days approach we'll have more options to get outside as we work through this critical leg of the COVID-19 marathon," Tam said.

"We are closer now than ever, but it is still too soon to relax measures and too soon to gather in areas where COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada."

New Brunswick reported 13 new COVID-19 cases on Friday — all of them in the Edmundston region, located in the northwest of the province. This comes one day after the province stepped up restrictions in the region in the face of rising variant cases. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said Thursday that the the goal is to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Edmundston area "before it gets an even stronger grip than it has now."

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new COVID-19 cases on Friday. The announcement comes one day before public health officials relax widespread public health restrictions; all health regions in the province will drop to Alert Level 2 as of 12:01 a.m. NT Saturday due to the sustained low caseload.

Nova Scotia reported five new cases of COVID-19 Friday as the province moved to further expand vaccine eligibility.Prince Edward Island reported three new travel-related cases of COVID-19 on Friday.

In Quebec, health officials reported 950 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and seven additional deaths. According to provincial data, hospitalizations stood at 481, with 115 people in intensive care units.

The updated figures came a day after the province's health department said that Quebecers who've had a confirmed COVID-19 infection will only need a single dose of vaccine, which will act as an immunity booster.

Manitoba reported 116 new COVID-19 cases and three related deaths on Friday. Public health officials in the province also reported that 46 cases of the more contagious B117 coronavirus variant have been identified in Manitoba.

Nunavut reported no active cases for the sixth day in a row on Friday. Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said starting Monday, travel restrictions in Arviat will be lifted.

That means there will be no travel restrictions within the territory, but residents who leave Nunavut must still complete 14 days of isolation in a government-run isolation hotel in southern Canada.


What's happening around the world

Demonstrators gather for a rally decrying New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 outbreak, on Thursday in New York. Cuomo, in his third-term as governor, is battling controversies on multiple fronts.(John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

As of early Friday afternoon, more than 125.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which runs a coronavirus case-tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 2.7 million.

The World Health Organization appealed on Friday for countries to donate doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines to help meet vaccination targets for the most vulnerable in poorer countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the COVAX vaccine facility, run with the GAVI vaccine alliance, needed 10 million doses immediately as a stop-gap measure.

"COVAX is ready to deliver but we can't deliver vaccines we don't have. Bilateral deals, export bans and vaccine nationalism have caused distortions in the market with gross inequities in supply and demand," Tedros told a news conference. "Ten million doses is not much and it's not nearly enough."

In Africa, Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday announced a halt to all movement in the capital, Nairobi, and four other countries on Friday as the COVID-19 outbreak reached its worst ever stage in East Africa's richest economy.

In a televised address, Kenyatta said a wave of new lockdown measures, including a stricter curfew, the suspension of in-person schooling and the closing of bars in the capital, were essential to fight the COVID-19 spread.

In the Asia-Pacific region,Australia is considering diverting COVID-19 inoculations from its vaccination program to Papua New Guinea, where the coronavirus is threatening to unleash a humanitarian disaster, a government source said.

South Korea said it will extend its coronavirus distancing rules, which include an outside dining curfew and ban on gatherings of five or more people, for two weeks.

In Europe, a senior European Union official says 55 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered to EU member states in the second quarter of this year, starting next month.

The EU's internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, says the bloc will receive another 120 million doses of the single-shot jabs between July and September.

Breton spoke Friday during a visit to a plant in northeastern Spain where the vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical company Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, is being bottled. It is one of four vaccines approved for use in the EU.

COVID-19 patient Joan Soler Sendra, 63, looks at his family members after watching the sea as part of a 'sea therapy,' 114 days after he was admitted to Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, on Thursday.(Nacho Doce/Reuters)

He said the EU will be producing two or three billion doses by end of year, making it the world's top vaccine manufacturer, and allowing 70 per cent of the EU population to be inoculated by mid-July.

France's president, meanwhile, said he has nothing to be sorry about for refusing to impose a third virus lockdown earlier this year, even as his country is now facing surging infections that are straining hospitals and more than 1,000 people with the virus are dying every week.

Emmanuel Macron's government has stressed the importance of keeping children in school and businesses afloat as the pandemic stretches into a second year.

"We were right not to implement a lockdown in France at the end of January because we didn't have the explosion of cases that every model predicted," he said late Thursday night. "There won't be a mea culpa from me. I don't have remorse and won't acknowledge failure."

Medical workers are seen working in an intensive care unit where people suffering from COVID-19 are treated at Cambrai hospital in France, on Thursday.(Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

For months France has championed a "third way" between confinement and freedom, including a nationwide curfew and closing all restaurants, tourist sites, gyms, large shopping malls and some other businesses.

Many doctors and scientists have been urging the French government for weeks to impose stronger restrictions, notably because of the more contagious and more dangerous virus variant first identified in Britain.

"A zero-virus situation doesn't exist and that's true for every country in Europe. We're not an island and even the islands who'd protected themselves sometimes saw the virus come back," Macron said. "But we considered that with the curfew and the measures we had, we could cope."

France has recorded the fourth-highest number of virus infections in the world, and among the highest death tolls, at 93,378. Intensive care units are again at or beyond capacity in Paris and several other regions because of a new surge of critically ill virus patients.

Norway will delay its decision on whether to resume the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine, broadcaster TV2 reported.

In the Middle East, Lebanon's private sector is stepping in to speed up the vaccination campaign against coronavirus by importing at least a million doses of Russia's Sputnik vaccine. The move is aimed at reopening businesses around the small country that has been hit by an unprecedented economic crisis.

The first batch of 50,000 doses arrived early Friday, making Lebanon one of few nations where the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is being boosted by private sector initiatives. Lebanon, a tiny nation of six million people including around one million Syrian refugees, began its inoculation campaign in mid-February after finalizing a deal for some two million doses with Pfizer.

In the Americas, Colombia has approved emergency use of Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine, the director of food and drug regulator INVIMA said.

A nurse inoculates a teacher on Thursday with a dose of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination day for the education sector at a school in downtown Caracas.(Ariana Cubillos/The Associated Press)

Argentina has decided to suspend flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico starting on Saturday to prevent variants of the coronavirus from entering the country.

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

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