Today’s coronavirus news: Boris Johnson to press Trudeau, G7 leaders on wider COVID-19 vaccine distribution; Africa reaches 100K known COVID-19 deaths as danger grows
The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.
6:36 a.m. It has been a long year for people who live, work or have family in nursing homes. At the height of the pandemic’s first wave, Premier Doug Ford promised to put “an iron ring of protection” around long-term care, saying he would “spare no expense” to safeguard vulnerable seniors.
The iron ring did not appear. The second wave has proven even deadlier than the first — an “unthinkable and catastrophic failure,” according to Sinai Health geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall. Last week, Ontario passed a grim milestone, when second-wave nursing home deaths — now at 1,880 — eclipsed the 1,850 seen in the first wave.
Ontario’s long-term-care system, weakened by decades of systemic neglect, left many homes exposed, understaffed and ill-prepared for the pandemic. Horror stories of elder abuse and mass deaths have emerged from some of the hardest-hit facilities, where the virus spread fast through ward-style rooms or sickened so many employees that there was no one left to care for residents. This is not one of those stories.
Inside Kensington Gardens, workers have spent an exhausting 12 months fighting to keep residents safe from the fast-moving coronavirus. For every victory, the pandemic has delivered new twists and fresh blows, but they have managed to hold the line. Their story is one of grit, community and leadership, a place where people came together to forge their own iron ring.
This is how they did it.
Read the full story inside a Toronto long-term-care home fighting two waves of COVID-19 from the Star’s Amy Dempsey.
6:02 a.m. The European Union’s executive commission plans to double its contribution to the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, bringing the 27-nation bloc’s commitment to the initiative to deliver vaccines to poor nations to 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion).
According to an EU official who spoke anonymously, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen will make the announcement later Friday during a meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven economic powers.
The official was not authorized to speak publicly because details have not been made public.
Von der Leyen will also announce an additional 100 million euros ($121.4 million) to support vaccination campaigns in Africa in partnership with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The EU is one of the leading donors to the COVAX program, which aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 shots for low-and middle-income countries. COVAX hopes to deploy some 336 million doses by the end of June, and around 2 billion doses by the end of the year.
But the program has already missed the goal of starting vaccination in poor countries at the same time that doses were rolled out in rich countries.
5:46 a.m. An African Union-created task force working to secure COVID-19 vaccines says Russia has offered 300 million doses of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine.
The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, said in a statement Friday that the body is “tremendously proud” to offer the doses to Africa’s 54 countries. The statement says the Sputnik V doses will be available in May.
The AU previously secured 270 million doses from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. As the African continent continues to wait for vaccine deliveries from the global COVAX initiative, the Africa CDC has encouraged the pursuit of doses from bilateral arrangements and other sources.
The African continent has barely seen large numbers of doses arrive. Health officials have spoken about growing tensions and inequality with richer countries that have stockpiled vaccines.
The goal is to vaccinate 60% of the African continent’s population as soon as possible to achieve herd immunity. Officials say that taking too long could mean COVID-19 becomes endemic in parts of the continent of 1.3 billion people.
5:33 a.m. China’s Sinovac delivered 1 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac to Hong Kong on Friday evening.
Government officials approved Sinovac’s two-dose vaccine on Thursday. The semi-autonomous city is relying on three vaccines and has purchased 22.5 million doses in total.
Priority groups include health care workers and those above the age of 60, as well as essential workers. Online appointments will begin on Tuesday.
The city is also expecting 1 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine by the end of February. It has also purchased AstraZeneca’s shots.
Sinovac has yet to publicly release clinical trial data from its last stage of testing, drawing criticism for lack of transparency.
The Hong Kong government says the Sinovac vaccine has received unanimous approval from an expert panel of 12. The panel as well as the city’s health officials reviewed Sinovac’s early-stage trial data, as well as interim data from the last stage of clinical trials in Brazil.
5:03 a.m. The head of Germany’s disease control agency warned Friday that the drop in new coronavirus cases has levelled off even as the share of more contagious variants is rising.
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, said Germany may be heading toward another “turning point” in the pandemic after weeks of falling infections.
His agency reported 9,113 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past day, and 508 deaths. Germany has recorded almost 2.4 million cases and 67,206 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
Earlier this week Health Minister Jens Spahn said the share of the more contagious variant virus first detected in Britain has reached about 22% in Germany, from 6% two weeks ago.
Spahn told reporters in Berlin that the government wants to double the number of vaccinations in the coming weeks, from about 140,000 per day at present.
Germany has administered almost 3 million first doses since late December. More than 1.5 million people have received their second shot.
5 a.m. U.S. life expectancy plunged by a full year in the first half of 2020, the biggest drop since World War II, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country.
Life expectancy at birth dropped to 77.8 years from 78.8 in 2019, according to provisional data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The report also showed widening disparities along racial and gender lines. Black men saw a three-year decline in life expectancy, while the gap between the sexes rose to 5.4 years, the most in more than two decades.
The figures capture the impact of a pandemic that’s been directly responsible for almost half a million American deaths. A recent research paper found that the overall toll may be even higher once indirect effects are taken into account, including people who died because they delayed seeking treatment for other conditions.
Life expectancy in America had already shown signs of stalling out in the years before the coronavirus, after rising steadily for most of the period since World War II. Possible explanations include higher suicide rates and a surge in drug-related deaths as opioid abuse spread — and there are signs that the pandemic could be making both those problems worse.
4:50 a.m. Africa has surpassed 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 as the continent praised for its early response to the pandemic now struggles with a dangerous resurgence and medical oxygen often runs desperately short.
“We are more vulnerable than we thought,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told The Associated Press in an interview reflecting on the pandemic and a milestone he called “remarkably painful.”
He worried that “we are beginning to normalize deaths,” while health workers are overwhelmed.
The 54-nation continent of some 1.3 billion people has barely seen the arrival of large-scale supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, but a variant of the virus dominant in South Africa is already posing a challenge to vaccination efforts. Still, if doses are available, the continent should be able to vaccinate 35% to 40% of its population before the end of 2021 and 60% by the end of 2022, Nkengasong said.
Health officials who breathed a sigh of relief last year when African countries did not see a huge number of COVID-19 deaths are now reporting a jump in fatalities. The Africa CDC on Friday said overall deaths are at 100,294.
Deaths from COVID-19 increased by 40% in Africa in the past month compared to the previous month, the World Health Organization’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters last week. That’s more than 22,000 people dying in the past four weeks.
The increase is a “tragic warning that health workers and health systems in many countries in Africa are dangerously overstretched,” she said, and preventing severe cases and hospitalizations is crucial.
But the latest trend shows a slowdown. In the week ending on Sunday, the continent saw a 28% decrease in deaths, the Africa CDC said Thursday.
Friday 4 a.m. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host Justin Trudeau and their G7 counterparts for a virtual leaders’ summit today aimed at bringing renewed momentum to COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Johnson will be calling on G7 leaders to increase their funding for the COVAX Facility, which aims to distribute vaccines to poorer countries.
Johnson confirmed Britain will be sending all of its surplus vaccines to COVAX, a development that could place Trudeau in a hot seat because Canada is the only G7 country using its membership in the program to get extra vaccines for its own population.
The Liberals have been under fire from international organizations and some opposition parties for the decision to accept 1.9 million doses of vaccine from COVAX for domestic use in Canada by the end of June.
Trudeau has defended the decision on the grounds that countries that contribute to COVAX are allowed to receive vaccines of their own and he has noted that Canada is one of the leading contributors to international program.
Thursday 4:19 p.m. Health officials on Prince Edward Island have confirmed one new case of COVID-19 today, The Canadian Press reports.
Chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, says the case involves a man in his 20s who recently travelled outside of Atlantic Canada, according to CP.
She says the man is asymptomatic and tested positive during routine testing.
The man travelled on Air Canada flight AC8302 from Montreal to Charlottetown on Feb. 16, and anyone on that flight who has not been tested for COVID-19 is asked to go to a drop-in testing clinic.
P.E.I. has two active cases of COVID-19 and has had a total of 115 cases since the onset of the pandemic.
There have been no hospitalizations or deaths.