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Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday

Canada needs tighter travel restrictions to protect Canadians from COVID-19 variants and should also have a variety of vaccine options as some countries fight over tight supply, says Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of Canada’s Immunity Task Force. 7:27 The latest: Ontario reports 1,670 new COVID-19 cases — fewest since late November. Quebec reports 1,328 new cases, […]

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Canada needs tighter travel restrictions to protect Canadians from COVID-19 variants and should also have a variety of vaccine options as some countries fight over tight supply, says Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of Canada’s Immunity Task Force. 7:27

The latest:

  • Ontario reports 1,670 new COVID-19 cases — fewest since late November.
  • Quebec reports 1,328 new cases, B.C. reports 485 cases and Alberta reports 459.
  • More than 1 million dead in the Americas from complications from COVID-19, head of Pan American Health Organization says.
  • Trudeau says European official assured him vaccines from Europe won’t be affected by new export requirements.
  • Canada’s procurement department scrambling to source syringes.

Over one million people in the Americas have now died from complications from COVID-19, the head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa Etienne, said on Wednesday.

There is growing pressure on hospital capacity throughout North America as, in some U.S. states, nearly 80 per cent of ICU beds are being used to treat COVID-19 patients, and similar rates are seen in many Mexican states, she warned.

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The hospital situation in Brazil is particularly worrisome, with three-quarters of ICU beds occupied in many Brazilian states, she said.

WATCH | Brazil struggles to keep up with rising infections:

Brazil struggles to keep up with rising COVID-19 infections

1 day agoVideo

Brazil has the world’s second-highest COVID death toll, and the health care system cannot keep up with new infections. Doctors on the ground say they’re exhausted and desperate for more equipment. 2:28

As of 6:20 p.m. ET Wednesday, more than 100 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 55.6 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million. A CBC News tally of deaths in Canada stands at 19,533.

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As many as 90,000 U.S. residents are projected to die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks, the Biden administration warned Wednesday in its first science briefing on the pandemic, as experts outlined efforts to improve the delivery and injection of COVID-19 vaccines.

The hourlong briefing by the team charged with ending the pandemic by U.S. President Joe Biden was meant to deliver on his promise of “levelling” with the American people about the state of the outbreak that has already claimed more than 425,000 U.S. lives. It marked a sharp contrast from the Trump administration, when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a president who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation.

Lila Blanks holds the casket of her husband, Gregory Blanks, 50, who died after contracting COVID-19, ahead of his funeral in San Felipe, Texas, on Tuesday. (Callaghan O’Hare/Reuters)

Wednesday’s briefing was conducted virtually, rather than in person at the White House, to allow for questions from health journalists and to maintain a set timing no matter the situation in the West Wing.

The Biden administration said it was examining additional ways of speeding vaccine production, a day after the president announced the U.S. plans to have delivered enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end of summer.

Emergency debate in Parliament

Canada is facing its own struggles with vaccine rollout, as provinces call for more supply from Ottawa to meet demand.

No doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive in Canada this week, and there will be a reduction in deliveries next week, too, as the company retools a production facility in Europe.

During an emergency debate Tuesday night, Procurement Minister Anita Anand told the House of Commons that Pfizer has assured her it will ramp up its deliveries once its plant is upgraded and will still meet its contractual obligation to supply Canada with four million doses by the end of March. Another two million doses are scheduled from Moderna by that time.

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  • COVID-19 variant believed to have spread to 3rd facility north of Toronto

With those two vaccines alone, Anand said the country remains on track to meet the government’s goal of vaccinations for every willing Canadian by the end of September. If Health Canada authorizes any of the other five vaccine candidates for which the government has contracts, she said that schedule could be accelerated.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for suggesting earlier in the day that Canada is “in good shape” when it comes to the vaccine supply.

“He thinks we’re in good shape when Canadians will only receive eight per cent of the vaccines his government promised Canadians just last month,” O’Toole said. “If this is what the prime minister considers good shape … what does he consider terrible shape? Three per cent?”

Trudeau said Wednesday that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen assured him that new export requirements on COVID-19 vaccines won’t affect shipments of Canada’s vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Trudeau said in question period that he spoke to von der Leyen by phone earlier in the day.

On Tuesday, von der Leyen said they were enacting an export transparency mechanism to ensure European countries were made aware of how many doses of vaccines made in Europe were being exported, as the continent is not getting as many doses of vaccines as it had expected.

The vaccine rollout across the 27-nation European Union has run into roadblocks and been criticized as too slow. Pfizer is delaying deliveries while it upgrades its plant in Belgium to increase capacity. And AstraZeneca disclosed that its initial shipment will be smaller than expected.

The EU, with 450 million citizens, is demanding that the pharmaceutical companies meet their commitments on schedule.

-From The Associated Press, The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:35 p.m. ET

What’s happening in Canada

As of 6:15 p.m. ET, Canada had reported 761,226 cases of COVID-19, with 57,742 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stands at 19,533.

Canada’s procurement department is scrambling to source smaller syringes for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, anticipating that Health Canada will agree to change the label to say each vial of the precious substance contains six doses instead of five.

Pfizer formally requested the change on Jan. 22, and Health Canada’s regulatory team that approved the vaccine for use on Dec. 9 is now considering the new material.

If the label is amended, Pfizer will ship fewer vials to Canada overall because Canada’s contract with the vaccine-maker is based on 40 million doses, not vials.

That sixth dose was a surprise find by medical professionals, who found using special syringes could extract the extra dose.

But those syringes are not common and have become the latest COVID-19 hot commodity after both Europe and the United States agreed to the label change earlier this month.