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Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about phase two in B.C.'s COVID-19 immunization plan as Premier John Horgan and Minister Arian Dix look on during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., Monday, March 1, 2021. British Columbia is planning for a return to normal life after Labour Day as part of its four-step COVID-19 reopening plan. The plan started May 25, 2021, with the easing of restrictions that affected gatherings, sports events and dining, both indoors and outdoors.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

A four-step plan in British Columbia to ease out of the COVID-19 pandemic could mean people can attend live concerts, watch sports in person and choose whether to wear a mask by Sept. 7.

The launch of the restart program Tuesday began with the relaxing of some restrictions on gatherings, sports events and dining, both indoors and outdoors.

Premier John Horgan said B.C.’s strong immunization rate allows the province to slowly bring people back together, with a target date for the final phase of the plan to be implemented the day after Labour Day.

“It’s an exciting day for all of us,” said Horgan at a news conference. “We’ve made extraordinary sacrifices as a province and a people over the past 15 months.”

But he said the success of the rollout will depend on the province’s progress to reduce COVID-19 infection rates.

Health officials will be watching COVID-19 case counts and possible transmission events to ensure the province can meet the plan’s progressive targets set for June, July and September, Horgan said.

“The way we do that is we make sure our vaccination rates continue to go up,” he said. “I’m very confident, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from COVID-19 is to expect the unexpected. Going forward and slamming back again is not what we want to do.”

Almost three million of the more than four million people eligible to receive COVID-19 immunization in B.C. have had their first shot.

The changes in restrictions will depend on the number of people being vaccinated and as that number rises, more limits will be removed, Horgan said.

The earliest the public health emergency and provincial state of emergency could be lifted would be July 1, he said.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the restrictions removed Tuesday include allowing indoor and outdoor dining for up to six people, indoor gatherings with five personal visitors and in-person faith-based gatherings, at reduced capacity.

She said to prevent potential COVID-19 spread in communities, provincial travel restrictions will not be lifted until June 15 at the earliest, with recreational travel permitted only within residents’ regions.

A spokesman for an organization representing Canada’s largest airlines said in a statement B.C.’s plan gives clarity to the industry and consumers.

“The plan provides criteria for the phased reopening of the economy, including regional and domestic travel,” said Mike McNaney, National Airlines Council of Canada president.

The Surrey Board of Trade said timely communication gives businesses a chance to prepare for the staff and supplies they will need in the near future.

“We need to ensure that the majority of British Columbians who are eligible for vaccinations are vaccinated,” said Anita Huberman, president of the Surrey Board of Trade in a statement. “That’s the only way to reach Step 4 of the plan.”

Henry said the province will continue to monitor case counts and the condition of the virus, but expressed confidence vaccines are limiting spread.

“I don’t see a situation where we are going backwards unless things change drastically,” she said. “We’ll be staying flexible because we know this virus still has some tricks up its sleeve.”

On Tuesday, health officials reported 289 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest daily count since late October. One death was also reported, bringing B.C.’s total number of COVID-19 deaths to 1,680 people.

B.C. imposed restrictions at the end of March on indoor restaurant dining and group fitness, while reversing a plan to allow indoor faith services as COVID-19 case numbers soared to new highs.

COVID-19 case counts increased rapidly as variants of the virus began to dominate. Infection rates peaked in early April, while hospital admissions increased and intensive care units filled with patients.

The number of hospitalizations prompted the government to cancel non-urgent surgeries in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions.

The restrictions were supposed to last until April 19 but were extended as more restrictions on travel were introduced.

Ontario reports first blood clot death in AstraZeneca vaccine recipient

Ontario is reporting its first death associated with a rare blood clotting disorder linked to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The province’s associate medical officer of health announced the death today.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe says the man in his 40s received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the end of April.

She says he passed away a few weeks later.

Yaffe says it’s been confirmed that the man had vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, also known as VITT, at the time.

Nearly one million people in Ontario aged 40 and older have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Ottawa preparing to deploy health workers, military and Red Cross to help in Manitoba

The federal government is deploying health workers, medical equipment and the military to Manitoba as COVID-19 overwhelms the province’s hospitals.

Manitoba has the highest new COVID-19 infection rate in North America currently, with more than 1,200 new cases confirmed over the recent long weekend.

More than a dozen critical patients have already been flown to Ontario for intensive care, some as far away as Ottawa, London and Windsor.

Winnipeg Liberal MP Jim Carr, cabinet’s special representative to the Prairies, says Ottawa is responding to requests for assistance from Manitoba.

Carr says the military is deploying to 23 First Nations to aid in vaccinations, epidemiologists and interviewers will help with contact tracing, and Ottawa is also preparing to send federal health care workers and potentially some from the Canadian Red Cross.

Carr says Manitoba has also asked for more personal protective gear as the province’s health care system “is reaching its limit.”

Nova Scotia opens COVID-19 vaccine bookings to people 20 and older

Nova Scotia has opened COVID-19 vaccine appointments to people 20 years of age and older across the province.

The government says 53,540 people in the 20-to-24 age group are eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines.

Health officials say appointments in community clinics and participating pharmacies will be opened on a continuous basis as vaccine supply is confirmed.

Forty-nine new cases of COVID-19 were identified Monday in the province, which has been under lockdown since April 28.

As of Monday, the province had 894 active reported infections and 72 people in hospital with the disease, including 19 in intensive care.

Over the Victoria Day long weekend, Nova Scotia’s active case count dropped below 1,000 for the first time since May 3.

Saskatchewan preparing for first step in its provincial reopening plan this weekend

The government of Saskatchewan is preparing to start easing restrictions Sunday as part of its reopening road map.

It comes three weeks after 70 per cent of the province’s residents aged 40 and older received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Officials announced earlier today that they will be relaxing restrictions on outdoor sports during the first step of reopening.

The province has also reached the vaccination threshold for the second step of reopening – more than 70 per cent of Saskatchewan residents 30 and older have received their first COVID-19 vaccine.

As a result, the next phase of easing restrictions is to begin June 20.

Premier Scott Moe again urged people to get a COVID-19 vaccine during an afternoon news conference.

“We’re not asking you to storm the beaches of Normandy,” he said. “All we’re asking you to do is go in and get a tiny needle in your arm.”

Moderna to seek approval for kids between 12 and 17

Moderna says it will ask Canada to authorize its vaccine for kids between 12 and 17 years old after a study of its mRNA vaccine in teenagers shows it to be both safe and effective.

The Massachusetts-based vaccine maker says it will submit the study results to international regulators in early June.

The company says the study of 3,700 kids in that age group found no cases of COVID-19 among the kids who got two doses of the vaccine. The youth got the same size doses as adults, four weeks apart.

The company says there were no serious safety issues, and the side-effects mirrored those seen in adults, with headache, fatigue, pain and chills the most commonly reported issues after the second dose.

More than two dozen countries, including Canada, have green-lighted the vaccine for use in adults, but thus far Pfizer-BioNTech is the only vaccine available in Canada for youth.

B.C. set to lay out restart road map as cases slow, vaccinations increase

A plan to be announced today will start to get life and the economy back to normal in British Columbia with the methodical lifting of COVID-19 health restrictions.

Premier John Horgan said last week the restart will set the course for a future direction as COVID-19 cases decline and more people receive vaccinations, but it will take time to reach the final destination.

The province had been entering Phase 3 of its restart plan when case counts climbed to new highs in March, forcing a stop of indoor dining, adult group fitness and non-essential travel outside health authorities, while health officials also backtracked on allowing in-person religious services.

Horgan said the plans involve the gradual lifting of health restrictions and by July the province will be in a much better place.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the restart plan will take a measured approach as opposed to an immediate, full-scale reopening.

Walt Judas, B.C.’s Tourism Industry Association chief executive officer, says the non-essential travel restrictions were deeply felt by tourism operators who saw fishing, golfing and weekend getaway ventures dry up.

Some COVID-19 restrictions set to lift in Yukon today

Restrictions put in place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic are set to lift in Yukon today, paving the way for crowds to gather both in and outdoors.

Starting today, those who are fully vaccinated won’t need to isolate for two weeks when they travel to the territory, social bubbles will increase to 20 people, bars and restaurants can return to full capacity, and weddings, funerals and religious services can increase to 200 people with physical distancing measures in place.

Those who travel to the territory but aren’t fully vaccinated will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley says Yukon has made “great progress” with its vaccination effort.

The territory says in a statement that Yukon leads the country in vaccinations for adults, noting youth aged 12 to 17 will be able to start getting their shots on May 31.

The territory aims to have youth fully vaccinated by mid-July.

Ontario residents who received first AstraZeneca shot in mid-March can book second dose

Ontario residents who received a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in mid-March will be able to book their second shot this week as the province seeks to use up its stockpile before it expires.

The province’s top doctor said last week that those who got their first jab of AstraZeneca between March 10 and March 19 during a pilot project at some pharmacies and doctors’ offices will be prioritized for the second dose.

Though the recommended interval between shots is at least 12 weeks, the second injection is being offered to that group after 10 weeks in order to make use of 45,000 doses set to expire in roughly a week.

Another 10,000 doses of AstraZeneca are due to expire next month.

The province currently has more than 300,000 doses in stock.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, has said the shorter interval is safe and provides strong protection against COVID-19.

Alberta premier to outline strategy to ease COVID-19 health restrictions

Albertans can expect to learn Wednesday how the province plans to slowly ease COVID-19 health restrictions.

Premier Jason Kenney and other ministers are to outline the details at a morning news conference.

The government brought in tougher public health orders three weeks ago that were aimed at tamping down a surge of cases that saw Alberta lead North America in daily infection rates. The cases were also threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

More than 2,000 cases – or more – a day were being reported with more than 700 people in hospital.

The numbers have been declining, but chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said Tuesday there are still more than 12,000 active cases, so Albertans must remain vigilant.

There were 565 people in hospital with the illness, with 158 of those patients in intensive care.

“We’re now seeing promising declines in hospitalization numbers,” said Hinshaw.

“Collectively we have the power to bend the curve down and get us past this third wave.”

She urged Albertans to continue to get vaccinated and join the more than 2.5 million people in the province who have now received at least one shot.

Also Tuesday, most of Alberta’s kindergarten to Grade 12 students returned to in-person learning.

Students had been attending classes online since May 7, or in some cases earlier, in response to the rising COVID-19 caseloads.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says rules being extended to control COVID-19

The Manitoba government extended public health orders and welcomed health-care staff from the federal government Tuesday as COVID-19 pushed the province’s hospitals closer to the edge.

Some restrictions tightened last week for the May long weekend were set to expire Wednesday, but are to remain in place until the end of the week. They include a ban on gatherings, indoors or out, except among members of the same household, although there is a small exemption for people who live alone.

“We need Manitobans to know that our health-care system, right now, is at the brink, and we need to bring down these numbers,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer.

The number of people in intensive care beds was at 126 – more than 50 per cent above pre-pandemic capacity. That number did not include 18 intensive care patients who have been sent to hospitals in several Ontario cities over the past week to try to free up beds.

Half a dozen doctors called on the Progressive Conservative government to close non-essential businesses and enact a stay-at-home order. The surge of COVID-19 patients and the need to reassign health-care workers have resulted in cancelled surgeries and backlogs in other areas of medical care, they said.

“Anyone who has a serious chronic condition, who may have an early cancer that needs to be diagnosed, or is in need of urgent surgery, is now at great risk of not getting the care they need,” the doctors said in a statement.

Medical staff from Newfoundland and Labrador have been volunteering in Ontario hospitals to help deal with high numbers of severely ill COVID-19 patients. One doctor and two nurses say they feel conflicted about returning home at the end of their postings.

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