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B.C. Premier John Horgan will hold a news conference later today to announce the next steps in B.C.’s plan to safely restart the province.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Health restrictions will be eased on indoor gatherings, group activities and travel within British Columbia on Tuesday as COVID-19 immunization rates rise and case counts decline, Premier John Horgan says.

The province will take the next step forward in its restart plan announced last month, which aims to allow life to return to pre-pandemic times after Labour Day, he told a news conference on Monday.

Horgan said the plan is careful and safe, adding that the province will monitor COVID-19 case data and take guidance from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry as it approaches Canada Day, when the third step in the reopening plan is scheduled to take effect.

“Dr. Bonnie Henry’s modelling shows we’re on the right path,” he said. “Case counts are declining, hospitalizations are stabilizing and vaccine rates are climbing at a positive rate. What we need to do now is take the next careful steps forward.”

Henry said the reopening is based largely on B.C. exceeding targets for minimum vaccine levels, with more than 75 per cent of residents now having received their first shot. Health officials had set a 65 per cent first-dose vaccination rate to move to the second step of the reopening plan, she said.

COVID-19 news: Updates and essential resources about the pandemic

The second step means indoor seated gatherings to a maximum of 50 people are permitted at venues including movie theatres, banquet halls and live theatre performances, Henry said. High-intensity indoor fitness classes can resume and bars will be able to serve liquor until midnight. Indoor faith gatherings to a maximum of 50 people or up to 10 per cent of the capacity of a place of worship will also be permitted.

But Henry said safety protocols, including mask wearing indoors and physical distancing, remain in place. Health officials will monitor COVID-19 case data as the date approaches for the next step in the reopening plan on July 1.

“We may need to slow going forward depending on what happens, and this next couple of weeks will be very key for that and right now the public health orders are still in place,” she said.

Henry said she is confident B.C. will move onto steps three and four in the plan, but she will monitor COVID-19 transmission rates just in case.

“There are always things that are unknown,” she said. “We are watching very carefully. I don’t expect, with what we know now, we’ll have to go back.”

B.C. recorded 277 new cases over a three-day period, including 68 new infections on Monday, a case count not seen since last August. There were four more deaths, for a total of 1,734 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

A joint statement released Monday from the provincial health officer and health minister said the government’s target immunization rate is 100 per cent.

Henry said as first-dose vaccine rates reach 85 per cent and higher in B.C. and second shots also increase, the province will continue to better manage the virus and the return to normal will get closer.

“I am absolutely optimistic about our brighter days ahead,” she said. “This will be our summer of hope and healing.”

Daily case count continues to drop in Manitoba’s battle with COVID-19

Manitoba daily COVID-19 case count continues to improve, although the drain on hospitals remains high.

Health officials are reporting 124 new cases, well below a peak of 603 last month, and two deaths.

The percentage of people testing positive continues to drop as well.

The pressure on intensive care units remains strong and 26 COVID-19 patients are still receiving care in other provinces in order to free up bed space.

Manitoba’s chief public health officer says it could be another two weeks before hospital numbers get closer to normal.

Dr. Brent Roussin says the overall situation will continue to improve as more people get vaccinated.

Two cases of COVID-19 at Iqaluit school

Nunavut’s chief public health officer says two COVID-19 cases at Iqaluit’s middle school came from household transmission and the risk to other students is low.

With an outbreak ongoing in Iqaluit, the Aqsarniit school has split students into two groups, each group attending classes on alternating days.

Dr. Michael Patterson says the infected students are in the same group, so the school will stay open for students in the other cohort.

Contacts and classmates of the two infected students are being tested for COVID-19 and Patterson says that later today he will reassess whether the school should stay open.

The territory’s Health Department says it is also working with Agnico Eagle Mines to get residents back to work at its gold mine in central Nunavut after being sent home with pay when the pandemic began in March 2020.

There are nine active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, all in Iqaluit.

Nova Scotia reports one new COVID-19 death, eight more virus cases

Health officials in Nova Scotia are reporting one death related to COVID-19 today and eight new cases of the virus.

They say a woman in her 80s has died in the Halifax area, bringing the total number of deaths in the province since the pandemic began to 90.

All of the new cases are in the Halifax area, with three being close contacts of previously reported cases, two related to travel and three still under investigation.

Meanwhile, people who received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on or before April 24 can now reschedule their appointments for booster shots.

Anyone who has received a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine can now choose a second dose of either vaccine, while anyone who received a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can now receive a second dose of AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna.

Nova Scotia has 124 known active cases of novel coronavirus, with six people in hospital, including four in intensive care.

Quebec lowers pandemic alert for some regions, including Montreal and Quebec City

Quebec will reopen its border with Ontario on Wednesday, the province’s Public Security Department said Monday.

Travel from Ontario to Quebec has been restricted since April 19, due to concerns about the transmission of COVID-19 variants.

Travellers from Ontario will now be subject to the same COVID-19 restrictions as Quebec residents and a requirement that people travelling from Ontario to Quebec to return to their primary residence quarantine for 14 days has been lifted.

Quebec reported 123 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, a ninth consecutive day with fewer than 200 new infections, as the province once again relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.

Authorities reported one additional death linked to the disease Monday, which took place within the preceding 24 hours.

The Health Department said the number of hospitalizations declined by one from the day before, to 214, and 54 people are in intensive care, a decline of four.

The province reported 75,533 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered yesterday. Sunday was the fifth consecutive day that the number of second doses administered in the province was higher than the number of first doses, according to data from the province’s public health institute.

According to the Institut national de sante publique du Quebec, 78.8 per cent of Quebecers over 12 have now received at least one dose and 13.2 per cent of all residents are adequately vaccinated.

Montreal reported the most new COVID-19 cases with 48. It was followed by Laval, north of Montreal, and the Monteregie region, southeast of the city, both of which reported 14 new cases. No other region in the province reported more than nine new cases.

As of Monday morning, all Quebec regions that were previously classified as orange zones on the province’s pandemic alert system have been downgraded to yellow.

Those include Montreal, Quebec City, Laval, Monteregie, the Laurentians, Lanaudiere, Estrie, Outaouais and parts of Bas-St-Laurent.

The change means people from two different households can gather indoors, outdoor team sports can resume and more people can attend weddings, funerals and religious services.

Premier François Legault said the province may relax public health measures further in the coming days, but any changes need to be implemented gradually to avoid another bump in cases.

More Ontarians now eligible for earlier second dose of COVID-19 vaccine

More Ontarians will be able to book an accelerated second dose of COVID-19 vaccine starting today.

Those who received a first jab of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can now book their second shot after eight weeks.

The Ontario government had previously set a minimum wait time of 12 weeks for people who took a first dose of AstraZeneca.

They can choose whether to get a second dose of AstraZeneca, or switch to an mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

People who live in regions where the Delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading and who received their first shot on or before May 9 can also now make an appointment for their second dose.

The strategy is focused on Toronto, Peel, Halton, Porcupine, Waterloo, York and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 110 new cases in Toronto, 61 in Peel Region and 56 in Waterloo.

She says there are also 39 new cases in the Porcupine Health Unit and 29 in Durham Region.

Today’s data is based on nearly 13,600 tests completed.

The Ministry of Health says 384 people are in hospital because of COVID-19 but notes that more than 10 per cent of hospitals did not submit data over the weekend.

Ontario says that 135,574 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered since Sunday’s report, for a total of over 11.3 million.

Alberta opens COVID-19 lottery; 48,000 more first doses needed to lift health rules

Premier Jason Kenney says 48,000 more Albertans must step up for a first dose of COVID vaccine to fully lift health restrictions, and hopes his new lottery plan will be that incentive.

“The more people we can get vaccinated more quickly, the safer we all are,” Kenney said Monday while announcing details of three $1-million lotteries, which will roll out this summer.

Kenney said he asked Health Minister Tyler Shandro a month ago to devise an incentive plan, knowing that demand for first doses would drop off.

“We knew a point would come when we would run out of low-hanging fruit in terms of people who were eager to get the jab, and we reached that point about a week, two weeks ago,” said Kenney.

“I asked [Shandro’s] team to start getting creative about shaking the trees for that last 10 or 15 per cent [of the eligible population].

“Now is the time, exactly the right time, for us to start being creative, offering these incentives.”

Almost 69 per cent of those eligible have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine.

Once 70 per cent is reached, and the vaccines have two weeks to take full effect, the province plans to lift all but a handful of health restrictions, essentially returning the economy and community to its pre-COVID state.

The first $1-million lottery draw will be held on the day the restrictions lift, likely at the end of June or early July.

Every Albertan 18 years and older who has received at least one vaccine dose will be eligible, but must sign up online ahead of time.

Registrations began Monday.

The winner must also show proof they got the shot before the registration cutoff date, in order to avoid someone signing up and winning the lottery, then running out to get vaccinated only after their name is drawn.

The next two lottery draws will be at the end of August and the end of September — also $1 million each — and will be open for those over 18 who have had two doses.

There will also be other non-cash incentive prizes between now and the end of September, with details yet to be finalized.

Members of the Alberta legislature and their families are not eligible to win.

Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said he supports any effort to get more people vaccinated, including a lottery.

“But let’s remember that this government is still failing to do the simple things to motivate Albertans,” said Shepherd.

“An announcement that all members of the UCP government caucus have been vaccinated wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.

“An earlier and more aggressive campaign of temporary clinics would probably have helped as well.”

Manitoba has already announced a vaccine lottery, holding two lottery draws this summer with $100,000 prizes and $25,000 youth scholarships.

Alberta has 3,089 active cases of COVID-19. There are 270 people in hospital with the illness and, of those, 73 patients are in intensive care.

Health officials reported 115 new cases and no new deaths Monday.

The province is now in the second stage of its reopening plan, the most ambitious reopening program in Canada.

Museums, libraries, movie theatres, casinos and other entertainment venues reopened last week to limited capacity after being shuttered for months.

Restaurants can now have diners indoors as well as on the patio.

Kenney has said he would like to see Alberta fully reopened by early July so people can take part in signature festivals such as the Calgary Stampede.

Also Monday, Stampede officials announced the event, expected to run from July 9-18, would keep its attendance at half capacity. They said attendees could be required to show proof of vaccination or undergo rapid testing to enter some venues.

Staff and volunteers will also be required to wear masks and have rapid COVID-19 testing.

Ontario’s staged reopening started Friday with patios busy with diners enjoying eating together but with extra space between tables. Restaurants say they hope this is the start of continued reopening for the province.

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