British Columbia’s provincial health officer says she expects the “beginnings” of a COVID-19 vaccine may be available for some residents as soon as January.
“I am confident we will have a vaccine and it will be effective for at least some people and it will be safe. But it’s going to take more time now to find out exactly which one it is,” Dr. Bonnie Henry told CBC News on Wednesday.
Currently more than 150 vaccines are in development around the globe and 10 of those vaccines are in the midst of Phase 3 clinical trials — which involve hundreds of volunteers being vaccinated to ensure they are safe.
She added that she expects the vaccine to come in stages and that the B.C. government will likely not have enough for everyone right away.
Health-care workers, seniors, people with underlying illnesses and those who live in close quarters with others are likely candidates to receive the vaccine first, she said.
Canadian aviation workers continue to urgently press the federal government for a plan to rescue the industry, hit hard by the pandemic-related travel restrictions.
On a day that Ontario and Alberta both reported all-time highs in active COVID-19 cases, more than 200 grounded pilots, flight attendants, airport staff and other aviation workers took to Parliament Hill on Tuesday to call on Ottawa for a plan to safely restart the industry.
The workers are seeking financial help for the airline sector, including low-cost, long-term loans for their airlines. They also want rapid testing at airports in order to ease travel restrictions and an end to the 14-day quarantine period when entering the country.
This week, Air Transat became the latest airline to announce a major scaling-back of operations when it announced it is temporary laying off half of its remaining flight attendants and closing its Vancouver base.
That came just a week after WestJet announced it is shutting down most of its operations in Atlantic Canada, with all flights in and out of Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney, Charlottetown and Quebec City halted.
WestJet to refund passengers
WestJet says it will begin providing refunds to passengers who had their WestJet and Swoop flights cancelled because of the pandemic. The refunds will be in the original form of payment, rather than a credit for future flights as previously offered.
WestJet says it will begin on Nov. 2 to contact eligible passengers, starting with those whose flights were cancelled at the onset of pandemic last spring. Refunds are expected to take six to nine months.
WATCH | The future of the ailing airline industry:
Air Canada, the country’s largest airline, announced in May that it would lay off about 20,000 workers, or more than half of its staff, as part of its plan to cut costs. In June, it indefinitely suspended 30 domestic regional routes and closed eight stations at regional airports across Canada.
Earlier this month, the airline said it had ordered 25,000 rapid testing kits that can detect COVID-19 in someone in as little as five minutes, with the hope that the testing kits will help convince Transport Canada to relax current rules that stipulate all international travellers must self-isolate for 14 days upon landing.
Meanwhile, non-essential travel to European Union countries has been prohibited for Canadians.
EU officials met on Wednesday and recommended that because of rising case numbers here, decided that Canada will be one of three countries to drop off the so-called white list the EU has been maintaining. Tunisia and Georgia were also removed, while Singapore was added to the list.
The decision doesn’t ban travel immediately, as the details of the proposed changes will now be hashed out in a written procedure, which is normally finalized within days, an EU official told CBC News on condition that their identity remain confidential.
It would be the first time since the EU guidelines were implemented on July 1 that Canada is not on the list of approved countries.
The struggles of the aviation industry continue amid news that multiple provinces have reported record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases in recent days.
Quebec on Wednesday recorded 19 more coronavirus deaths, though most had not occurred within the past 24 hours. Still, it is one of the highest daily counts the province has seen since early June, and brings the total number of dead from the virus to 6,074.
Quebec reported 1,072 new cases on Wednesday, an unchanged number of hospitalizations at 565, with 94 patients in intensive care, a decrease of six since the previous report.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante also said Wednesday that the city is doubling the number of emergency beds for those experiencing homelessness this year. There will be 400 emergency beds provided and shuttles will be available to take people from over-crowded shelters to other locations with available beds.
Some residents in the province told CBC News they are concerned about the decision by regional health agencies to house some COVID-19 patients in long-term care homes, even though those individuals don’t live in those facilities.
Family members said they are concerned that having positive patients nearby could be a health risk for care-home residents.
Ontario, which saw an all-time high in active cases on Tuesday at 6,237, reported 790 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, 40 per cent of which were recorded in Toronto. There are currently 260 people hospitalized in the province — a decrease of 14 from the previous day — with 71 being treated in intensive care.
The province saw nine more deaths from the virus, bringing the total to 3,062.
The government also said Wednesday that $24.3 million will be provided to address the mental health of children and young people impacted by the pandemic. The funding includes provisions to increase access to mental health supports including therapy and crisis services, they said.
Alberta also reported a record high in active cases on Tuesday. Experts are urging officials in the province to tighten restrictions after a wedding held earlier this month turned into a superspreader event. So far, 49 active cases have been linked to the wedding, which was attended by 63 guests.
On Wednesday, Manitoba reported its third-highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases, with 135 new infections announced by officials. Of those, 102 are in the Winnipeg region. The five day positivity rate for Manitoba is now 4.8 per cent.
The provincial government also said Wednesday that fines for COVID-19 violations will increase to $1,296 from $486 for individuals, and to $5,000 from $2,542 for corporations.
Health care unions in Manitoba are also raising the alarm after a COVID-19 outbreak at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital has caused staff and patients to become infected, resulting in a second unit in the facility being shut down.
WATCH | Contact tracing needs to be more aggressive, timely, expert says:
What’s happening elsewhere in Canada
As of 8:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 206,360 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 173,748 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting rose to 9,829.
New Brunswick recorded six new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and also the fourth death since the pandemic began, a person in their 70s in the Campbellton region.
Nova Scotia reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday for the third day in a row, keeping the number of active cases in the province at five.
Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday reported no new COVID-19 cases for the fifth consecutive day. The province, after newly reported recoveries, now has nine active cases.
Prince Edward Island on Tuesday reported one new case of COVID-19, a female rotational worker in her 20s who travelled outside the Atlantic bubble for work purposes. The province did not hold a briefing on Wednesday.
Saskatchewan reported 57 new cases on Wednesday, up from 44 cases on Tuesday, which was down from the province’s highest single-day increase of 66 the day before.
Alberta reported 406 new cases on Wednesday, with 113 people in hospital including 16 in ICU.
Premier Jason Kenney is self-isolating and being tested after learning Wednesday that Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard tested positive for COVID-19.
British Columbia health officials announced 203 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, the highest one-day total to date. The province also confirmed its first outbreak in a school, with three people from École de l’Anse-au-sable, a French-language school in Kelowna, testing positive.
About 160 members of the school community, students from kindergarten to Grade 3, and staff who work with them, may have been exposed to the virus and have been asked to stay home until Nov. 4.
In the Northwest Territories, health officials on Wednesday confirmed two cases of COVID-19 in Yellowknife, while another presumptive case was identified at a mine.
What’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 41 million. More than 1.1 million people have died, while more than 27.9 million have recovered.
Europe again reported a new high in the weekly number of coronavirus cases during the pandemic last week, recording more than 927,000, according to the World Health Organization.
The UN health agency said in its latest global report on the coronavirus that the continent saw a 25 per cent spike in confirmed cases last week and was responsible for 38 per cent of all new cases reported worldwide. Russia, the Czech Republic and Italy accounted for more than half of new COVID-19 cases in Europe.
In the U.K., South Yorkshire in northern England will move into the very high lockdown tier on Saturday to tackle rising levels of COVID-19 infections after local authorities struck a deal with the British government on financial support for the area to accompany the measures, Sheffield Mayor Dan Jarvis said on Wednesday.
South Yorkshire will join Liverpool and Lancashire in the highest tier. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday he would impose the same measures in Manchester after failing to agree on a support package with local leaders.
The Czech Republic announced Wednesday that stricter rules will be implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19, including limits on movement after previous restrictions have failed to slow the surge of new infections.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis called the number of new cases “enormous” and warned the health-care system will collapse in coming weeks if urgent measures aren’t implemented. On Tuesday, the country reported 12,000 new cases in a single day, which was 900 more that the previous record set last Friday.
In the United States, 32 of 50 states have entered the so-called red zone with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, and nationally the country averaged 120 cases per 100,000 people, its highest since a peak in July, according to a Reuters analysis.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 8.3 million people in the U.S. have been confirmed infected with COVID-19 and more than 221,800 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. It says the U.S. has more than 67 deaths per every 100,000 population. Canada has more than 26 deaths per 100,000 population.
In Brazil, health authority Anvisa said on Wednesday that trials of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and University of Oxford would continue after a volunteer died.
Anvisa did not provide further details about the individual or the circumstances around their death, citing confidentiality rules.
The Brazilian vaccine trial would have been suspended if the volunteer who died had been part of the active arm, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters. To reduce the risk of bias in the trial, participants and investigators are not told if volunteers are in an active group receiving the coronavirus vaccine candidate, or a comparative control group that receives a meningitis vaccine instead.
The comment from the source would suggest the volunteer was part of the comparative control group and had not received the vaccine.
The University of Oxford said on Wednesday the trial would continue, and that an independent review had revealed no safety concerns.
In Asia-Pacific, Australian authorities said they’re treating a COVID-19 case in the city of Melbourne as a rare reinfection. The only coronavirus case reported in the former hot spot of Victoria state on Tuesday had also tested positive for COVID-19 in July.
Melbourne has been in lockdown since early July, but restrictions in Australia’s second-largest city are easing this week as daily infection tallies remain low.
India on Wednesday reported 54,044 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, taking the overall tally past 7.6 million, and 717 additional deaths for a total of 115,914.
Deaths and new cases per day have been declining in India since last month, but health officials have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the ongoing religious festival season, which includes huge gatherings in temples and shopping districts.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is experiencing increased coronavirus spread as heavy fighting continues between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Residents are having to hide in basements from artillery fire, mixing those who are healthy and sick.
The war has hindered efforts to track down who is infected and resources have been diverted to treating the wounded. In some cases, doctors diagnosed with COVID-19 have continued to perform surgery as there are no other options.
In Africa, South Africa is investigating 10.5 billion rand ($839 million Cdn) of the government’s coronavirus spending for corruption, more than double the amount it was investigating two months ago.
The country has seen the highest number of infections on the continent, with more than 706,000 confirmed cases and 18,600 deaths.
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