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People line up to register as walk-ins at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic, in Montreal, on May 13, 2021.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is suggesting that three-quarters of Canadians will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the Canada-U.S. border can be reopened.

Trudeau acknowledges that discussions about the border are ongoing, but he’s tamping down any expectations that travel restrictions could be lifted soon.

Discretionary travel between Canada and the United States has been prohibited since March 2020, a restriction that will be extended into June before the end of the week.

Trudeau says Canada is still not out of the current third wave of COVID-19 and has much more work to do before it’s safe for travel to resume.

That’s in contrast with the U.S., where a blistering vaccination pace has prompted public health officials to lift face mask requirements for people who are fully vaccinated.

That has some U.S. lawmakers urging the Biden administration to get serious about drafting a plan to allow travel to and from Canada to resume in time for the July 4 holiday.

Quebec lifts curfew May 28, presents sweeping reopening plan

Quebec Premier François Legault presented his government’s COVID-19 reopening plan Tuesday, which begins with lifting the curfew on May 28 and ends with the possible removal of the mask mandate in late August.

Legault’s plan is divided into three general steps. By May 31, the “vast majority” of Quebec will be moved to the orange pandemic-alert level, he said, under which high school students are in school full time and restaurants can fully reopen.

By June 14, Legault says most regions will be at the yellow level, under which people from two different households can gather indoors and bars can reopen. And by June 28, the Premier said most regions will be at the green level, where “small parties” can take place indoors with up to 10 people from three separate households. The green level also permits the resumption of indoor team sports.

Legault’s plan came the day he reported that 75 per cent of Quebec adults had received at least one dose of vaccine or had an appointment to get one.

75% of adults in Quebec are vaccinated or booked to get vaccine, Legault says

Seventy-five per cent of Quebec adults have received a COVID-19 vaccine or are booked to get one, Premier François Legault said Tuesday, a few hours before he is scheduled to release the government’s reopening plan.

“We are finally approaching our freedom! Thank you for making the difference!” the Premier said on Twitter.

For the second consecutive day, health officials Tuesday reported the lowest number of new daily cases since September. Officials reported 549 new COVID-19 infections and nine more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including four within the previous 24 hours. They said hospitalizations dropped by 17, to 484, and 118 people were in intensive care, a rise of two.

As of Tuesday morning, 49 per cent of all Quebecers – 60 per cent of adults – had received at least one vaccine dose, according to government data. Officials said 70,122 doses of vaccine were administered Monday, for a total of 4,469,055.

The government has set a goal of vaccinating 75 per cent of all adults in the province by the June 24 Fete nationale holiday.

“Thanks to the young people, we are on the way to achieving our goal,” Health Minister Christian Dube said Tuesday on Twitter. Vaccination bookings opened last week to anyone 18 years and up.

Meanwhile, Quebec’s Health Department said Tuesday in an email it is considering shortening the 112-day interval between doses for people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The province stopped giving first doses of that vaccine on May 13 because of concerns about rare cases of blood clots, and it is scheduled to receive 148,100 additional AstraZeneca doses this week.

Earlier this month, Legault said he was impressed with Saskatchewan’s “Re-Opening Roadmap” and asked Dube to develop a similar plan.

Saskatchewan’s three-step plans calls for a gradual reopening with various restrictions lifted after 70 per cent of people above certain age thresholds are vaccinated. It lifts most restrictions three weeks after 70 per cent of all adults in the province receive their first vaccines doses.

Canada’s official COVID-19 death toll reaches 25,000

Ontario is reporting 17 new fatalities related to the virus today, taking the national total to 25,000.

The grim milestone means six in every 10,000 Canadians died of COVID-19 since March 9, 2020, when the country’s first COVID-19 death was reported.

Canada surpassed 20,000 deaths at the end of January.

The pandemic’s toll has been most profound on Canada’s oldest citizens.

Four in five people who died were over the age of 70 and almost three in five were residents of a long-term care home.

The death rate ranks Canada 64th in the world according to the daily statistics published by the Our World in Data project.

Saskatchewan slows vaccine bookings to make room for school shots

Saskatchewan says it will be reducing COVID-19 vaccine appointments to make room for school immunizations.

The province says it wants to make sure students can be immunized before the end of the school year.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it will start delivering COVID-19 vaccines in elementary and high schools in early June, though no dates have been finalized.

The province has promised more than 90,000 vaccines in total for children 12 and older.

Currently, youth are only eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The province says parental consent will be needed for children to receive the vaccine.

Students who are home-schooled or want a vaccine before their school offers it will be able, like adults, to get a dose at a pharmacy or a clinic.

NACI approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for teens between 12 and 15

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is confirming they believe it is safe and effective to offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to adolescents.

Health Canada authorized Pfizer for kids between 12 and 15 years old on May 5, after the company completed a clinical trial which found it was safe and 100 per cent effective at preventing kids in that age group from getting COVID-19.

NACI’s advice comes after most provinces have already added the age group to their vaccination plans.

Manitoba began allowing kids that age to book appointments this week and Ontario plans to open up vaccinations to youth under 18 by the end of the month.

Most other provinces are working on expanding to that age group as well.

New Brunswick opens vaccination to 18 and up, reports 42nd COVID-19 death

A resident in their 70s of the Pavillon Beau-Lieu special-care home in Grand Falls, N.B., is the 42nd person to die in New Brunswick of COVID-19.

Health officials said today in a statement the resident died in hospital.

Officials are reporting 10 new cases of COVID-19 today, nine of which are in the Fredericton region and one is in the Bathurst area.

They are also announcing that New Brunswickers as young as 18 can book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine.

New Brunswick has 121 active reported cases of COVID-19.

Nine New Brunswickers are hospitalized with the disease, five of whom are in New Brunswick and four are in hospital outside the province.

Nova Scotia injunction blocking protests ‘unjustifiable’ limit on expression: CCLA

A court injunction that bans protests against public health orders in Nova Scotia should be modified or set aside, says the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Cara Zwibel, the association’s director of fundamental freedoms, said Tuesday that the injunction is an indefinite ban on freedom of assembly and expression that is “unjustifiable.”

Zwibel said her organization’s concern is that the court order issued Friday prohibits any and all protest activity during the province’s state of emergency – something that she says runs counter to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“That [protest] right is a very fundamental one in a democratic society,” she said in an interview, adding that the injunction goes too far. “We think it should be set aside or significantly narrowed,” she said. Zwibel said the association would prefer to work with the province to modify the “exceptionally broad terms” of the injunction, but it is willing to challenge it in court if necessary.

She wrote Monday to Premier Iain Rankin and Justice Minister Randy Delorey asking for a discussion. The letter calls the injunction “a two-handed axe where a scalpel would have sufficed.” It says that if the province is unwilling to amend the court order, “we will be seeking to set aside or vary the court’s order to ensure that fundamental charter rights are not unduly and indefinitely restricted.”

The injunction was aimed at preventing illegal gatherings in defiance of public health orders introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19.

It was primarily aimed at two anti-mask protests including one planned for Citadel Hill in Halifax last Saturday by a group called “Freedom Nova Scotia.” However, its reach extends to similar groups and also bans the promotion of similar gatherings on social media.

No Atlantic bubble yet, but PEI to begin processing visitor applications in June

The premier of Prince Edward Island says while no date has been set to reopen the Atlantic travel bubble, his province will begin processing visitor applications on June 8.

Dennis King said today anyone wishing to travel to the province will require preapproval and a plan to isolate for 14 days upon arrival. The Island is currently closed to non-essential travel.

It’s still unclear when the Atlantic travel bubble will reopen, inside which residents of the region can cross provincial boundaries without having to isolate.

King says travellers will need a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving and they will be tested again once they get to the province.

Health officials on the Island are reporting two new cases of COVID-19 today. The travel-related cases involve a person in their 20s and someone in their 40s.

Prince Edward Island has 10 active reported cases of COVID-19 and has reported a total of 194 infections and no deaths linked to the virus.

Canadians can drive to U.S. for COVID-19 vax and avoid quarantine, Ottawa confirms

Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States for a COVID-19 vaccine and avoid quarantine on return if they meet some straightforward conditions, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirms.

Those conditions include having a note from a licensed health-care provider in Canada that the inoculation is medically necessary, and written proof from the licensed U.S. vaccine provider.

Quarantine regulations passed by the federal government contain an exemption for essential medical services obtained abroad. A coronavirus shot, the agency says, falls under that definition.

The exemption offers people within driving range of border states awash in vaccines a relatively simple way to get a coveted shot quickly. While supplies are ramping up in Canada, distribution in many areas remains tenuous and age and other eligibility limits remain in place.

Information on the regulations and exemption, created by federal cabinet and contained on the government’s website, was confirmed by the Public Health Agency of Canada in an e-mail to David Musyj, head of the Windsor Regional Hospital in the border city of Windsor, Ont.

Musyj had pressed Health Canada for answers after noting that people could easily drive over to Detroit for a shot, but having to isolate for 14 days on return would be a major obstacle.

“It does verify our interpretation of the current order in council/website information is accurate – that a COVID-19 vaccine is an ‘essential medical service or treatment,’ Musyj said. “It makes it clear the exemption is permissive.”

However, public health also said in a written exchange with Musyj that crossing the border – which remains closed to non-essential travel – for a vaccine would not be licence to tack on shopping or other activities. In addition, to qualify for an exemption, the trip has to be in a private vehicle but can include a support person.

“Very clear: You need to go to the appointment only and return immediately,” Musyj said. “Cannot stop anywhere else for anything.”

On return, health authorities said, quarantine-exempt travellers must wear a mask in public spaces at all times and keep a list of close contacts and places visited for 14 days.

Importantly, Health Canada noted U.S. border agents have final say on who they let in, and that it is up to returning travellers to provide the required documents to Canada Border Services agents for a final decision on a quarantine exemption.

“The onus is on the traveller to clearly demonstrate they meet an exemption under the order in council,” the public health agency said.

Musyj said he was still pushing for federal approval to allow an organized effort to retrieve surplus vaccines from Detroit and bring them back to Canada for use here. The same vaccines produced in Kalamazoo, Mich., are also distributed in Canada but demand in the U.S. has lagged supply.

The federal government has said millions of COVID-19 inoculation doses are set to start arriving in the coming days, but supplies remain limited in many areas.

Ontario health units urge patience amid vax demand surge as all adults now eligible

People receive COVID-19 vaccinations at the Ontario Food Terminal, in Toronto, on May 11, 2021.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario health units are asking for patience and warning of limited COVID-19 vaccine appointments after all adults in the province became eligible for shots today.

A spokeswoman for the premier’s office says more than 183,000 vaccine appointments were booked within the first two hours of expanded eligibility.

People aged 18 and older became eligible for shots starting at 8 a.m.

Health units across the province warned that appointments might not be available right away amid skyrocketing demand.

The City of Ottawa announced that community clinics were fully booked as of 11 a.m., saying more appointments would become available when the city receives more supply.

In Hamilton, the city acknowledged residents’ frustration while trying to book shots, saying there may be “limited or no appointments” at some of the city’s mass clinics.

The provincial government says it’s working with Ontario’s top doctor to develop an economic re-opening plan as COVID-19 case counts continue to decline.

Ontario’s stay-at-home order was recently extended to June 2nd, but Health Minister Christine Elliott says a sector-specific re-opening strategy will be released “very soon.”

Elliott made the comment as the province reported 17 additional deaths and 1,616 new cases of COVID-19 today.

That’s the lowest daily case count since late March.

The Ministry of Health says there are 1,484 people in hospital with the virus, including 764 in intensive care.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced nearly 200-million dollars in funding to help mass produce messenger R-N-A vaccines in Mississauga.

The funding for Resilience Biotechnologies will cover about half of the cost to modernize and expand its manufacturing capacity.

The upgrade will allow the company to make up to 640-million doses a year of m-R-N-A vaccines, the technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Trudeau says the investment is necessary for Canada to be ready to face any future health crisis.

B.C. landmark tourism attractions eligible for up to $1-million in pandemic grants

The B.C. government is offering up to $1-million grants to help “anchor” attractions and tour bus operators survive the pandemic and ramp up operations when it’s safe to do so.

Premier John Horgan and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said they believe the $50-million BC Major Anchor Attractions Program is enough to prevent any of those not-for-profits and businesses on the edge from going under.

Few sectors have been hit as hard by COVID-19 as tourism, Horgan said during a news conference Tuesday.

“Many of our major tourism attractions we all know and love are struggling and we need to make sure we’re there for them,” Horgan said.

“The effects, of course, are far-reaching not just on those anchor attractions but on the many communities that depend on tourism landmarks to have people coming through their community to boost their local economy and bring visitors to town.”

Urban attractions that receive 75,000 visitors or more each year are eligible for the maximum amount, while rural attractions with 15,000 or more visitors and tourism bus companies with 30,000 or more passengers a year may receive up to $500,000.

The funding will cover expenses like payroll, rent and utility costs related to restarting operations in preparation for gradual reopening in alignment with provincial health orders.

Horgan said anchor attractions have ripple effects for the economy as visitors stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and shop in the area, while also offering employment opportunities, especially for youth.

The application window will be open until June 7, with funds provided in July.

Eligible attractions include the Museum of Anthropology, Butchart Gardens, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Pacific National Exhibition and Science World, Mark gave as examples.

However, the funding doesn’t meet the $8-million the PNE has said it needs to stay afloat.

The attraction employs 4,300 people and is the largest employer of youth in B.C., the PNE said in a statement May 5 when it announced it would have to remain closed for a second season due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It said last month that with forecasted losses of $15-million, it would need $8-million in emergency grants from the province to survive.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a statement he was disappointed that the B.C. funding announcement meant the city-owned operation will still be left critically short.

Unlike other major attractions, the PNE has not been guaranteed any COVID-19 funding to date. It should receive the same level of support from senior levels of government as other fairs across Canada, Stewart said.

Stewart said he would work with PNE leadership on next steps.

Alberta reports more than half of people over 12 have received first COVID-19 shot

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the province has reached a COVID-19 vaccination milestone, with more than 50 per cent of the population over the age of 12 getting at least one shot.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says new case numbers are dropping but the province’s positivity rate is still a concern, because it has been high for several weeks.

She notes that the positivity rate is 11.4 per cent, much higher than the 1.5 per cent it was last May.

Hinshaw says that difference shows why public health measures are still needed.

But she says it’s safe for children to go back to school next Tuesday after the long weekend, noting that moving to online learning was “an operational decision” by the education ministry.

A spokeswoman for Alberta Education says the ministry will monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed, but adds officials are confident students will return to classrooms to finish the school year.

“We recognize the importance of resuming in-person learning as soon as it is possible,” Nicole Sparrow said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

Hinshaw said in-class learning was cancelled earlier this year because high community transmission was putting pressure on the school system.

“Exposures were causing many people to quarantine and [there were] difficulties finding sufficient staff and substitute teachers to continue to operate schools,” she said.

“We see numbers beginning to decline and, as community transmission reduces, pressures on schools will also reduce.”

There were 877 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday for a total of 20,013 active cases. A total of 691 people were in hospital, with 187 of those patients in intensive care. Another four Albertans died.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says as more Canadians receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, they can look forward to a summer of small outdoor gatherings such as barbecues, camping and picnics. She says in the fall, as more receive their second dose, Canadians can expect a return to indoor work, recreational activities and get-togethers.

The Canadian Press

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