Saskatchewan eyes lifting mask mandate by mid-July

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Saskatchewan's mask mandate could be lifted as early as mid-July,as Alberta announced a further relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions,

A woman wears a mask on the streets of Saskatoon during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

Saskatchewan's mask mandate could be lifted as early as mid-July, the premier said Tuesday, as Alberta announced a further relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe made the mask announcement as he confirmed Step 2 of the province's reopening would begin June 20.

Under Step 2, there will no longer be capacity limits for retail or personal care services, restaurants or bars, but physical distancing would still be required.

The mask order will only be lifted once three weeks have elapsed since the beginning of Step 2 of Saskatchewan's reopening plan, and three weeks have passed since 70 per cent of people aged 12 and older have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Even once masks are no longer required, "everybody should do what they feel comfortable doing," Moe said.

Saskatchewan reported one new death on Tuesday and 86 new cases of COVID-19. Sixty-six per cent of Saskatchewan adults have now received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Starting tomorrow, those aged 65 and older, or those who received their first dose by March 22, will be eligible for a second dose.

Meantime, next door in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney announced additional easing of public health measures and a speeding up of second doses of the vaccine rollout.

"Every Albertan who has received their first dose of vaccine will be able to book their second dose appointment by the end of June," he said Tuesday afternoon. Kenney said he believes everyone will be able to be fully vaccinated by the end of the summer.

More than 63 per cent of Albertans have received a first dose of vaccine, and nearly three quarters of Albertans over the age of 75 have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

Alberta reported 209 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday — the lowest number in the past five days — and one additional death.


What's happening across Canada

As of 6:20 p.m. ET, Canada had reported 1,383,215 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 31,164 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 25,566. More than 24 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered so far across the country, according to CBC's vaccine tracker.

Ontario on Tuesday reported nine new deaths and 699 new cases of COVID-19 — the lowest single-day case number seen in the province since October.

According to the province, there were 804 patients in hospital, with 583 in ICU due to COVID-19.

The update comes a day after Ontario reported 13 deaths and 916 new cases of COVID-19, which was the lowest daily new case total since February.

The province, which is still under a broad stay-at-home order, has not offered updated information around how it plans to handle the rest of the school year, though details are expected in the days ahead.

Students across the province have been learning remotely since returning from a break in April.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at a news conference last month. The province's new COVID-19 case numbers fell to 699 on Tuesday, down from 916 a day earlier.(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

In neighbouring Quebec, which has been easing restrictions in many areas, health officials on Tuesday reported 208 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths. Premier François Legault announced a further loosening of restrictions — including an end to all red zones as of June 7.

That means that as of Monday, people in Montreal, Laval and parts of the Chaudière-Appalaches, Lower Saint-Lawrence and Eastern Townships will be allowed to dine inside restaurants and go to the gym.

High school students will attend class in person full time.

In the North, there were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon on Tuesday.

In Atlantic Canada, health officials in Prince Edward Island also reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The province, which has not seen any COVID-19 related deaths in the pandemic, has just four active cases.

In New Brunswick, health officials reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported six new cases.

Officials in Nova Scotia reported 12 new cases Tuesday.

Lockdown measures were strengthened in Manitoba during its 3rd wave of COVID-19.(Tyson Koschik/CBC)

In the Prairie provinces, hard-hit Manitobareported 232 new cases Tuesday and three new deaths. Six earlier cases have been removed due to data correction for a net increase of 226. The five-day test-positivity rate stands at 12 per cent provincially and 13.5 per cent in Winnipeg. ICU capacity remained an issue, with 72 people in the province's ICUs, one more than Monday, and an additional 36 patients being treated in Ontario and one in Saskatchewan.

In British Columbia, health officials on Tuesday reported 184 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths. The province says just over 70 per cent of all adults in B.C. and 67 per cent of those 12 and older have now received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.


What's happening around the world

A police officer inspects the travel documents of a passenger on a bus in Kuala Lumpur at a roadblock during the nationwide lockdown in Malaysia on Tuesday.(Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images)

As of early Tuesday evening, more than 171 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to an online coronavirus tracking site maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.5 million.

Governments need to step up and provide $50 billion US in funding to improve vaccine equity and access to critical medical care around the world, the heads of four major international agencies said Tuesday.

The heads of the World Health Organization, World Bank, World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund published a statement saying governments need to act "without further delay" or risk "continued waves and explosive outbreaks of COVID-19, as well as more transmissible and deadly virus variants undermining the global recovery."

Speaking at a briefing on Tuesday, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said now is also the moment for leaders to share doses to ensure health workers and other at-risk people are protected.

"They say, 'Where there is a will, there is a way,'" Tedros said. "We know the way — the question is, do we have the will?"

In the Asia-Pacific region, Malaysia began a two-week national lockdown on Tuesday, with police checkpoints on road junctions around the capital Kuala Lumpur as authorities tackle a wave of COVID-19 infections that has hit record levels in recent weeks.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin called it a "total lockdown," although essential services are allowed and some factories can operate with a reduced workforce. The latest outbreak has been more severe, partly due to highly transmissible variants.

In the Americas, health researchers said that during the early months of the U.S. epidemic, 7,000 to 10,000 more kidney disease patients died than normally would.

The report, published by the Centers for Disease Control, focused on about 800,000 patients who early last year had kidney failure. About 60,000 of them died between the beginning of February and the end of August last year.

The researchers compared those numbers to trends in the same patient population during other recent years, and concluded such deaths had risen by as much as 10,000. Patterns of where the patients died were similar to maps of where COVID-19 hit the United States in the first months of the pandemic. But the authors say more research is needed to determine what drove the increase — whether it was due to coronavirus infections, difficulty accessing medical care or other reasons.

In Africa, South Africa's unemployment rate increased to 32.6 per cent in the first quarter of the year, local media reported on Tuesday. The hardest-hit country in Africa recently ramped up some COVID-19 public health restrictions in the face of rising case numbers.

In the Middle East, Dubai, the second-largest member of the United Arab Emirates federation, has started offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to youths aged 12 to 15, the government media office said on Twitter.

In Europe, Italians may eat and drink indoors at bars and restaurants for the first time in months, and that includes the morning ritual of having an espresso or cappuccino at a local café. Until Tuesday, businesses had to either offer outdoor seating or serve coffee in takeout cups, admonishing customers to step away from the bar before sipping or run afoul of virus restrictions.

A cook prepares a pasta dish as the Italian government eases COVID-19 restrictions on indoor restaurants and bars in Rome on Tuesday.(Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

Italy began rolling back pandemic restrictions in April as the number of new cases showed signs of steady decline. To date, nearly 35 million people in the country of 60 million residents have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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

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