Quebec has recorded its first case of a new variant of COVID-19, the health minister said Tuesday, making it the fourth province in Canada to confirm the arrival of the new variant.
A statement from officials in Quebec said the person had been in contact with a family member who had returned to the province from the United Kingdom, where the new variant was first reported.
Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta had already reported cases of a new variant that health officials in England have said is more readily transmissible.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said that the arrival of the new variant doesn’t change the usual isolation measures.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Monday that the person with the new variant, who had recently arrived from the U.K., did “everything they were supposed to do” by following quarantine and other public health measures.
“At this point, there is no evidence that there has been any further spread,” Hinshaw said.
A new variant has also been identified in South Africa. The Public Health Agency of Canada has said that while early data suggests the new variants “may be more transmissible, to date there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe disease symptoms or have any impact on antibody response.”
The health agency said more research is needed to confirm the findings.
The United States also reported its first known case of the coronavirus variant on Tuesday. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said a case of “the same variant discovered in the U.K.” was found in the state.
As of Tuesday evening, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 565,506, with 72,271 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,378.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford said he is “extremely disappointed” with his finance minister’s decision to travel abroad. Rod Phillips said in a statement Tuesday that the trip was “previously planned” and that he would have cancelled it had he known about the Dec. 26 province-wide lockdown.
“I have let the minister know that his decision to travel is completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated again — by him or any member of our cabinet and caucus. I have also told the minister I need him back in the country immediately,” Ford said in a statement Tuesday evening.
Phillips’ office told CBC News that the minister left for the trip on Dec. 13 and is still out of the country, adding that he will be in quarantine after his return.
Ontario on Tuesday reported 4,492 new cases over a two-day period.
Ontario is reporting 2,553 cases of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> today, and 1,939 cases reported yesterday. Today, there are 895 new cases in Toronto, 496 in Peel, 147 in Windsor-Essex County, 144 in Hamilton and 142 in York Region.
Retired general Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, called on Health Canada to “look into” the possibility of providing Moderna’s vaccine as a single dose, rather than two, in a bid to quickly expand capacity as cases of the illness surge in the province.
As it stands, the Moderna vaccine requires two doses administered about 28 days apart. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only other COVID-19 vaccine currently approved for use by Health Canada, also involves two doses, taken some three weeks apart.
Hillier said that if the Moderna vaccine were to be made a single dose, “that would allow us to get literally hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps even several million” vaccinated more efficiently.
WATCH | Hillier asks Health Canada to look into one-shot possibility for Moderna vaccine:
Quebec, meanwhile, reported 2,381 new cases and 64 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 1,131, with 148 COVID-19 patients in ICU.
Dubé, meanwhile, announced that he is asking the federal government for a series of measures to prevent travellers from spreading COVID-19 after returning to Quebec, including testing people for COVID-19 before boarding a flight home and once again upon their arrival.
Prince Edward Island reported two new travel-related cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The new cases are not related to each other and involve a woman in her 30s and a male in his late teens.
Both individuals had travelled outside Atlantic Canada and have been isolating since their arrival in the province. Prince Edward Island has six active reported cases of COVID-19.
Yukon Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said the territory has received its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine, and the arrival marks a turning point in Yukon’s fight against COVID-19.
On Monday, the health minister of the Northwest Territories said the first batch of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine — which was approved by Health Canada last week — had arrived in the territory. Julie Green said in a tweet that 7,200 doses had arrived in Yellowknife.
Priority residents in the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NWT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NWT</a> will start receiving their first dose of the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Moderna?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Moderna</a> vaccine in mid-January 2021. The <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/GNWT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#GNWT</a> will release a vaccine roll out plan in early January with more details. [2/2] <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/nwtpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#nwtpoli</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cdnpoli</a> <a href=”https://t.co/e9zH3wd3Re”>pic.twitter.com/e9zH3wd3Re</a>
In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney announced 879 new cases and 26 deaths due to COVID-19 on Tuesday.
British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 2,206 cases in the province since Christmas Eve, along with 74 deaths during that period.
Here’s a look at some other COVID-19 developments from across Canada:
What’s happening in the U.S.
U.S. president-elect Joe Biden criticized the Trump administration on Tuesday for the pace of distributing COVID-19 vaccines, saying it is “falling far behind.”
Biden said “it’s gonna take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people” at the current pace.
He vowed to ramp up the current speed of vaccinations five to six times — to one million shots a day — but acknowledged it “will still take months to have the majority of Americans vaccinated.”
The president-elect, who takes office Jan. 20, said he has directed his team to prepare a “much more aggressive effort to get things back on track.”
“I’m going to move heaven and earth to get us going in the right direction,” Biden said.
Earlier, vice-president-elect Kamala Harris received a COVID-19 vaccination live on television.
Harris received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from nurse manager Patricia Cummings at the United Medical Center, in Washington’s predominantly black Anacostia neighborhood. Cummings wore a mask and face visor as she administered the injection.
“I want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine — it is relatively painless … it is safe … it’s literally about saving lives. I trust the scientists,” Harris said.
Meanwhile, Alabama — long one of the unhealthiest and most impoverished states in the U.S. — has emerged as an alarming coronavirus hot spot.
Its hospitals are in crisis in a region with high rates of obesity, high blood pressure and other conditions that can make COVID-19 even more dangerous. Access to health care was limited even before the outbreak. And public resistance to masks and other precautions is stubborn.
WATCH | U.S. sees record COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations in December:
While ICUs across the U.S. were at 78 per cent capacity during the week of Dec. 18-24, Alabama’s were 91 per cent full, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
On Monday, there were 2,800 people in Alabama hospitals with COVID-19, the state’s highest total since the start of the pandemic.
The virus has killed more than 4,700 people in Alabama. Tennessee and California have been hit especially hard in recent weeks.
The U.S. has seen more than 19.3 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and nearly 335,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
What’s happening around the world
As of early Tuesday morning, more than 81.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 46 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to the Johns Hopkins tracking database. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.
In South Africa, the hardest-hit nation in Africa, officials have tightened COVID-19 restrictions, banning alcohol sales and extending a nationwide curfew, as infections shot through the one million mark, owing to a faster-spreading variant of the disease discovered in the country.
In the Middle East, Dubai is planning to inoculate 70 per cent of its population with the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech by the end of 2021, a health official said.
Israel’s Health Ministry said the country has vaccinated more people in nine days than have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
The ministry said Tuesday that nearly 500,000 people, or about five per cent of Israel’s population of nine million, have already received the vaccine since the country began its inoculation drive last week. More than 407,000 people have caught the virus in Israel, and over 3,200 have died.
Israel is hoping a mass vaccination campaign will help bring its current outbreak under control and ultimately wipe out the virus entirely. This week the country entered its third national lockdown, with much of the economy shut down to help bring down surging infection numbers.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea said 40 more coronavirus patients have died in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number since the pandemic began.
Officials also reported 1,046 new confirmed coronavirus infections on Tuesday, taking the total caseload to 58,725, with 859 deaths. South Korea’s previous daily high for COVID-19 deaths was 24, reported on both Dec. 21 and Dec. 22.
Some observers have said surging fatalities reflect an increase in cluster infections at nursing homes and long-term care centres where elderly people with underlying health problems stay.
China has reported seven new cases of coronavirus infection in Beijing, where authorities have ordered the testing of hundreds of thousands of residents.
Cases have been clustered largely in villages on Beijing’s northeastern edge, but authorities are wary of any spread in the capital that could hurt claims it has all but contained local spread of the virus.
India has found six people who returned from the United Kingdom in recent weeks infected with a new variant of the coronavirus.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Health Ministry said that all six patients were isolated and their fellow travellers were tracked down. Close contacts of the infected patients were also put under quarantine.
Health officials in southern Pakistan say they have detected the country’s first three cases of the virus variant that prompted strict new lockdown measures in Britain and global travel restrictions.
In Europe, more people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in England than at the first peak of the outbreak in the spring, official figures show.
There were 20,426 patients in hospitals as of Monday morning — the last day for which figures are available — compared to the previous high of 18,974 on April 12.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of Britain’s National Health Service, said health-care workers are back in “the eye of the storm” as they had been in the spring.
British authorities are blaming a new variant of the coronavirus, first identified in southeast England, for soaring infection rates. Almost half of England’s population is under tight restrictions on movement and on everyday life in an attempt to curb the spread.
Stevens said vaccines provide hope, and estimated all vulnerable people in Britain could be inoculated against the coronavirus by late spring 2021.
German authorities said the coronavirus variant found in Britain has been detected in samples from two patients who were infected in northern Germany in November.
The Health Ministry in Lower Saxony state said late Monday that the samples were tested more thoroughly after news of the new variant emerged in Britain, regional public broadcaster NDR reported. They were taken in November from an elderly man with other medical conditions who later died and from his wife.
The ministry said the man’s daughter had been in England in mid-November and likely was infected there.
In the Americas, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said a vaccine would be available in the country within five days of being approved by federal health regulator Anvisa.