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A health care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, in Toronto, on May 5, 2021.

CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

More Ontarians are eligible to book their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine through the provincial system today.

Those aged 70 and older, as well as people who received their first dose of an mRNA vaccine on or before April 18, can now book their second shot on the province’s website or through its phone line.

The expansion comes as Ontario nears a vaccination milestone: 10 million doses administered.

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On Sunday, the province reported that it had given out more than 9,992,000 doses, with more than a million Ontarians fully vaccinated.

Also today, the province’s incoming chief medical officer of health begins his transition to the new role.

Dr. Kieran Moore will start working with the current top public health official, Dr. David Williams, before taking over in a few weeks time.

Trudeau says government looking at plan for return of international tourists

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government plans to take a phased approach to welcoming back international visitors as pandemic restrictions loosen.

Trudeau says he expects high interest from overseas travellers who wish to come to Canada because of vaccination uptake rates and case counts that are better than peer countries.

He says anyone coming to Canada needs to be fully vaccinated before arriving because the country can’t risk another wave of COVID-19.

A fourth wave would be devastating to businesses and the morale of the country, Trudeau says.

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He adds that the government is looking at ways to start welcoming back visitors from abroad as case counts come down at home, in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

Trudeau made the comments today during a virtual appearance at an event hosted by the St. John’s Board of Trade, where he was pressed on ways to help the country’s hard-hit tourism sector.

Trudeau to quarantine at Ottawa hotel instead of government designated hotel for international travellers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will spend his travel quarantine following an upcoming trip to Europe at an Ottawa hotel, not one of the government’s designated hotels for international air travellers.

Trudeau is travelling to the United Kingdom later this week to attend the G7 leaders summit in Cornwall, his first foreign trip since he was in Ethiopia, Senegal, Kuwait and Germany in February 2020.

Currently, all international air passengers are limited to landing in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, and must spend up to three days in a designated quarantine hotel near those airports while they await the results of a COVID-19 test.

Trudeau and his travelling delegation, including media, will return by private plane to Ottawa, and a hotel is being prepared for them to quarantine there.

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The Conservatives are accusing the prime minister of asking for special treatment.

Public Health Agency of Canada president Iain Stewart says the agency had provided several options for the prime minister’s quarantine, and he wasn’t aware of which option had been chosen.

He says there might be security or other concerns behind the choice but that the decision was not made by PHAC.

New Brunswick fails to meet vaccination target, delays first phase of reopening plan

New Brunswick has failed in its bid to have 75 per cent of the province’s population receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of today.

Premier Blaine Higgs says all health-protection restrictions will remain in place until the target is reached.

He says even though the vaccination rate has been climbing at a steady pace in recent weeks, it will take another four or five days for the province to reach its goal and for the first phase of its reopening plan to kick in.

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Higgs is confirming that 70.3 per cent of those eligible to receive a vaccination had done so by Monday morning, and he says the target will not be reached by the end of the day as planned.

Despite the setback, Higgs says he’s confident the province will succeed in its plan to open New Brunswick to the rest of Canada on July 1.

The province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jennifer Russell, is encouraging young New Brunswickers to get vaccinated, noting that those under the age of 30 have the lowest vaccination rates in the province.

Manitoba may ease some restrictions as COVID-19 case numbers continue to drop

The Manitoba government may soon allow outdoor gatherings with friends as COVID-19 case numbers decline.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer, is hinting the change is being considered for as early as the weekend, when the current round of public health orders is set to expire.

Health officials are reporting 169 new cases and two deaths.

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It’s the lowest daily case count in several weeks, although the number of tests has dropped as well.

Roussin says hospitals remain strained, with dozens of intensive care patients sent to other provinces to free up bed space.

He says it’s too soon to make major changes to public health orders, but adds a ban on social gatherings could be eased a little – at least for outdoor get-togethers.

“We’re not in a position to significantly loosen anything right now,” Roussin said Monday.

“We know the outdoor settings are less risky, so we ... can consider something like that about the outdoor settings.”

Manitobans have been under tight restrictions on social gatherings during the pandemic’s third wave. Any get-togethers between people from different households – indoors or out – have been forbidden, although there’s been a limited exemption for people who live alone.

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Restaurants can only offer takeout and delivery services. Cinemas, gyms and museums are closed, and students in some areas, including Winnipeg and Brandon, have switched to remote learning.

The restrictions, along with ongoing vaccination efforts, have been credited for helping cut daily case counts from a peak last month of more than 600.

“Because we’ve had a number of days with these low (case) numbers with low testing volumes, it puts a little bit of a grey area in there, but I do think we’re very likely on that down trend of the third wave now,” Roussin said.

Dozens of emergency room doctors in Winnipeg warned that the pandemic’s stress on health care, as well as low staffing levels, has put nurses at risk of burning out and caused some to leave the profession.

“Consequently, most (emergency department) shifts now operate short of nurses, particularly senior nurses,” reads the letter to Premier Brian Pallister, signed by some 60 doctors.

“It is a regular occurrence to see a portion of the (emergency department) closed because there are not enough nurses to staff it, or for the nurse-in-charge to be struggling to find enough senior nurses to attend to the next critically ill patient that might arrive.

“This is affecting patient care and should never be acceptable.”

Nunavut lifts 14-day quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travellers

Travellers who have received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine will soon be exempt from a 14-day stay in Nunavut’s government-run isolation hotels.

Fully vaccinated travellers will be free to travel in and out of the territory without isolating and without a COVID-19 test starting June 14.

Since March of 2020, Nunavut has required all travellers to isolate in a hotel in southern Canada before flying into the territory.

Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, says current evidence shows fully vaccinated people are less likely to acquire and transmit the virus.

Travellers need to apply for an isolation exemption through the Nunavut government and provide proof of vaccination.

Patterson says vaccinated adults with children who aren’t vaccinated will still need to complete 14 days of isolation.

Postpartum mental health visits increased by 30% during pandemic: study

A new study says mental health visits by new mothers in Ontario increased 30 per cent during the pandemic compared to previous years, with a noticeable bump occurring within the first three months after giving birth.

The study is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

It looked at more than 137-thousand postpartum mental health visits to family physicians and psychiatrists in Ontario from March through November 2020.

Dr. Simone Vigod, chief of psychiatry at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital and co-author of the study, says isolation from COVID-19 restrictions, financial insecurities from lost jobs and health concerns all likely factored into the increase in mental health visits.

Vigod says a major postpartum risk factor is lack of social support and life stress – and pandemic restrictions “essentially reduced social support for new parents and gave them more life stress.”

The researchers looked exclusively at Ontario data, but Vigod expects similar trends across the country based on broader mental health survey results from the pandemic.

All of Quebec now out of pandemic red zone, restrictions ease further in some regions

All of Quebec is now out of the province’s highest pandemic alert level amid a continued decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Montreal, Laval and several smaller municipalities – the only parts of Quebec that remained at the red alert level – moved to the lower orange level today.

That allows gyms and restaurant dining rooms to reopen and sees high school students return to in person learning full-time instead of having online classes on alternating days.

In Quebec’s largest city, it’s the first time since the end of September that restaurant dining rooms have been allowed to open, though orange zone restrictions set a limit of two adults who don’t share an address per table.

Restrictions were eased further today in six other Quebec regions and part of a seventh.

That includes the regions of Abitibi-Temiscamingue, Cote-Nord and Nord du Quebec, which moved to the province’s green or lowest alert level.

Indoor gatherings consisting of 10 people or the residents of no more than three households are permitted in green zones.

Meanwhile, people 80 and over can now rebook their appointments to receive a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Last week, the province shortened the interval between doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines to eight weeks from 16.

Quebec, which has given people second dose appointments when they receive their first shot, will allow people to reschedule their appointments on the province’s vaccine-booking website in descending order of age.

Canada to receive 2.4 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week

Canada is scheduled to receive 2.4 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this week as more Canadians get their first and second jabs.

Those shots are the only expected shipments in what should be a comparatively quiet week of vaccine deliveries.

Moderna shipped 500,000 doses last week, with another 1.5 million shots due to arrive next week.

Ottawa is also expecting another one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of June, though a detailed delivery schedule has not been confirmed.

The fate of more than 300,000 shots from Johnson and Johnson that were first delivered in April remains unclear as Health Canada continues reviewing their safety following concerns about possible tainting at a Baltimore production facility.

The federal government says more than 60 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose, and the number fully immunized with two shots is rising.

More second doses to put B.C. on ‘good path’ toward normal life, doctor says

British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer is encouraging residents to register for a second dose of vaccine as the province heads toward a return to normal life with declining COVID-19 cases and rising vaccination rates.

Dr. Reka Gustafson says B.C. recorded 481 cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths over three days while 199 people are in hospital.

A total of 511 people were in hospital at the height of the pandemic, with 183 patients in intensive care.

Gustafson says 72 per cent of residents 12 and over have now received a first dose of vaccine as the province pushes to get second doses administered as fast as possible, about eight weeks after an initial shot.

While two doses of vaccine are more protective against the Delta variant, Gustafson says B.C. has had only about 500 of such cases, which is relatively low compared with other jurisdictions.

She says people who had a first shot of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine should feel comfortable getting the same vaccine or an mRNA vaccine such as the one made by Pfizer-BioNTech for their second dose unless they’ve had an allergic reaction or a blood clot, both of which are rare.

“The most robust studies about effectiveness come from two doses of the same vaccine,” she says.

“Either choice is reasonable. We are providing all the information we can for individuals to make healthy choices for themselves. The most important thing is to get that second dose.”

Gustafson says B.C. may soon be moving from mounting an emergency response against COVID-19 to managing it as another communicable disease through local public health-care providers.

“What we can look forward to as an immunized population is that COVID-19 will become one of these communicable diseases,” she said.

“It also means the public health teams can return to some of the other equally important work that keeps us well. To prevent overdoses, to prevent injuries and to reduce health inequities in our population.

“We are on a good path to get back to work, to university, to seeing friends and travelling, resuming all of those connections that are so important to all of us.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday that the province’s students won’t be returning to in-person learning for the remainder of the school year. Ford defended the decision when pressed by reporters, saying the large number of students, the spread of COVID-19 variants and loose border controls were key factors. The Globe and Mail

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