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A firefighter helps people with their vaccine screening and consent forms at the Malvern Community and Recreation Centre, in Toronto, on April 5, 2021.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

Ontario expects 65 per cent of adults to have their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of May as larger shipments of the shots arrive in the province.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said that means 7.9 million people should have their first dose when the month ends. The target comes less than a week after the government said all adults would be eligible for a vaccine starting the week of May 24.

“The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter with every vaccine administered, and together we can stop the spread of COVID-19,” Elliott said.

As of Thursday, people aged 50 and older, those with high-risk health conditions, and a number of workers who cannot work from home will be eligible to book their shots across Ontario.

That group of workers includes all elementary and secondary school workers, child-care workers, food and manufacturing workers, and agriculture and farm workers.

The province said Wednesday that it will add new pathways to get a vaccine with 10 employer-led vaccination clinics planned in the coming weeks including with the Ontario Food Terminal, Walmart Canada, and Loblaws.

It will also launch mobile vaccine units that will start visiting small and medium-sized workplaces in Toronto, Peel and York Region on Friday.

Ontario also said that by the end of the week more than 2,500 pharmacies will be ready to administer vaccines.

The province reported 2,941 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 44 more deaths linked to the virus.

Ford defends Fullerton after scathing long-term care commission report

Premier Doug Ford is defending his minister of long-term care amid calls for her resignation after a scathing report found Ontario’s nursing homes were neglected and unprepared for a pandemic.

Ford says he takes ultimate responsibility for the tragedies in long-term care and promised to fix the system.

He says he still has faith in Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, who has said the government is taking action to address problems in the sector.

His comments come nearly a week after the Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission issued its report calling for an overhaul of the sector.

Opposition politicians expressed doubts on Thursday whether Ford or Fullerton have committed to necessary moves that would improve the system.

They noted that the government hasn’t committed to changes like permanent wage increases for personal support workers or other recommendations in the report.

Nova Scotia reports record 175 new COVID-19 cases today

Nova Scotia has hit another single-day high in COVID-19 cases, with 175 reported today.

Health officials have identified 149 cases in the Halifax area, 13 in the province’s eastern zone, nine in the western zone and four in the northern zone.

The province now has a total of 1,203 known active cases, with 40 people in hospital, including nine in intensive care.

Officials say that as of Tuesday, 334,775 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered, with 36,858 people having received their required second dose.

They also confirm that a backlog of 45,000 unprocessed COVID-19 tests reported at the provincial lab last Friday has been cleared, and results are now available within 48 to 72 hours.

Yukon to lift 14-day self-isolation requirement for arriving travellers beginning May 25

Yukon is eliminating self-isolation requirements for travellers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and it will allow restaurants to return to full capacity in a “giant leap forward” toward normalcy, the territory’s chief medical officer said Wednesday.

Dr. Brendan Hanley and Premier Sandy Silver told a news conference that the territory is also working on a process to verify vaccination status before the changes take effect May 25.

The plan to loosen restrictions is possible because of the high vaccination rate in the territory, Silver said. As of Monday, 74 per cent of eligible Yukoners had received a first dose of a vaccine, while 65 per cent had been given a second shot.

“The vaccines are saving lives. The more people who receive them, the safer we will be and the sooner we will be able to return to a more normal way of living, hallelujah,” Silver said.

Yukon has recorded 82 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Two people have died and there is one active case.

The loosening of travel rules will apply to both Yukoners and travellers from other parts of Canada, Hanley said. But from a practical standpoint, it will be easier to develop a vaccination verification system for Yukoners first..

Officials are still working out the details, but it could mean people returning to Yukon signing a declaration allowing access to their health records to confirm they’ve had both doses of a vaccine at least two weeks earlier, Silver said.

Working out what the system will look like for non-Yukoners is more complicated and will require co-ordination with the federal, provincial and territorial governments, he said.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is discussing so-called vaccine passports with European countries.

Canada will align its policy on whether it will require travellers to provide a vaccine certificate with other countries, but it would be up to each country to set requirements for incoming travellers, Trudeau said.

Hanley said the loosening of self-isolation rules comes with caveats and it is not an open invitation for Yukoners to take vacations outside the territory. Non-essential travel in Canada remains restricted and Yukoners are expected to respect local public health protocols wherever they go.

Vaccinated travellers may also not be allowed to visit certain premises or hospitals and long-term care facilities, he said.

“Don’t assume you can suddenly make appointments within two weeks of travel,” he said.

“But we will gradually work with everyone to clarify the direction and to increase your ability to move around in society.”

The exemption does not apply to children or partially vaccinated people, although the territory is working on alternative plans for those groups.

Hanley said officials hope the announcement will persuade some reluctant Yukoners to get their shot.

New Brunswick reports province’s first death from rare blood clot linked to AstraZeneca’s vaccine

New Brunswick health officials are reporting the province’s first death of someone who developed a blood clot after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The individual in their 60s received the vaccine in mid-April and developed symptoms a week later, chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters Wednesday. She said the person, whose gender was not disclosed, was admitted to hospital and died two days later.

“I want to stress that medical complications following vaccination are extremely rare, but they do happen,” Russell said.

It is the third reported death in Canada from the rare blood-clotting syndrome known as vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT. A 54-year-old Quebec woman died last month after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, and Alberta officials announced on Tuesday night the death of a woman in her 50s.

Russell said the risk of complications from the vaccine remains very low, between one in 100,000 and one in 250,000 doses. She added that hundreds of thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered across Canada, the vast majority of them without incident.

The province has reported two cases of VITT. Russell said there are two other possible cases that are under investigation, but she wouldn’t provide more details until the investigations are complete.

“We will continue to evaluate the use of this vaccine to ensure that risks associated with its use are proportional to the potential consequences of contracting COVID-19,” Russell said. “The risk is not zero using it in people 55 and over, but the information that we have to this date is that the benefits outweigh those risks.”

Ontario court tosses vaccine-rollout discrimination lawsuit

A claim that alleges Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout discriminated against the vulnerable raises important issues, Divisional Court said on Wednesday as it nevertheless tossed the case.

In its decision, the court declined to declare the rollout unconstitutional on the grounds that it had no jurisdiction to do so and not because the application was without merit.

“The broader issues raised by the applicant are important and pressing issues,” the court said. “There is nothing frivolous and vexatious about the issue of vaccine equity in the context of a global deadly pandemic.”

The constitutional challenge, launched in March by David Daneshvar, of Toronto, turned on whether vulnerable people have had fair access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Those include some people with disabilities, homebound seniors, residents of hot spot neighbourhoods and the homeless.

Daneshvar, 28, who has several disabilities, wanted the government to ensure public health units made equity central to their vaccination plans, and to give them the necessary resources to do so. He also wanted the court to declare the rollout had violated his constitutional rights.

“The applicant’s concerns with accessing a vaccine and with ensuring that he and other Ontarians have equitable access to a vaccine are understandable and likely shared by many people in the province,” the court said. “However, the applicant has not established that the Divisional Court has jurisdiction to grant the broad declaratory relief he seeks.”

In a statement, Daneshvar’s lawyers stood by their assertion that the Ontario government had neglected its duty to provide fair and equitable vaccination access.

“For months, it has been clear the government had the scientific evidence but lacked the will to design a vaccine strategy that prioritized and protected the most vulnerable among us,” David Baker and Chris Holcroft said. “Repeated failures have increased the risk of infection and death for some people.”

The court hearing, they said, had demonstrated the government’s lack of plans to vaccinate people without internet or phone, or who faced language, mobility, or communications challenges.

In its legal filings, the province argued the application was premised on a “fundamental factual and legal misunderstanding” of how COVID-19 vaccines are administered in Ontario.

While the government devised high-level policy directions, it is up to the province’s 34 public health units to administer vaccines and implement a rollout suitable to their local populations, the province argued.

Quebec expands efforts to raise vaccination rate through ads, mobile clinics

Employees are vaccinated at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at CAE headquarters, in Montreal, on April 26, 2021.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government is expanding its efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as vaccine supplies increase and access widens.

A new ad released by the Health Department this morning shows people playing sports, socializing in bars and hugging loved ones, followed by the message that vaccines are key to regaining a normal life.

Health Minister Christian Dube wrote on Twitter today that a record 236,617 people booked vaccine appointments Tuesday after the province lowered the age of eligibility to people as young as 40.

As of Tuesday, the province had met its target of booking appointments or giving shots to at least 75 per cent of residents age 55 and up. Dube has said Quebec wants vaccination rates as high as possible to maximize herd immunity against COVID-19.

Officials in Montreal, meanwhile, are preparing for a second day at a mobile walk-in vaccine clinic at a mosque in a hard-hit neighbourhood where vaccine rates have lagged behind the city average.

Health officials have said the clinic will make vaccination easier for citizens of Parc-Extension, some of whom work unconventional hours at essential jobs or don’t speak French or English.

Quebec is reporting 915 new cases of COVID-19 today and five more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Alberta health agency closes cafe that skirted COVID-19 public health orders

Alberta Health Services says it has physically closed a central Alberta cafe that has been skirting COVID-19 public health orders for months.

The agency says it is barring access to the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., until its owner can demonstrate the ability to comply with restrictions.

It says it has taken several steps against the business since January, including three closure orders and the cancellation of the cafe’s food handling permit.

But Alberta Health Services says the cafe’s operator has decided not to follow mandatory restrictions.

The agency says it has received more than 400 complaints against the business since January.

It can’t issue fines or tickets, but says it has been working closely with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and police on this file.

“With COVID-19 cases increasing, including the more easily transmitted and potentially more severe variants, there is urgent need to minimize spread to protect all Albertans,” Alberta Health Services said in a news release.

Manitoba’s top nurse questioned in church challenge of COVID 19 restrictions

Manitoba’s chief nursing officer has told court that hospital staff were exhausted as they faced tough decisions during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seven Manitoba churches are in Court of Queens ‘s Bench in Winnipeg this week fighting the province’s public health orders Lanette Siragusa was questioned about pressures on hospitals, including on intensive care capacity, last fall when infections in the province were surging.

Lawyers for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a Calgary-based group representing the churches, also asked about effects on hospitals due to mental-health issues and addictions during the pandemic.

The churches are arguing that their right to worship and assemble has been violated by public health measures, which has led to “a crisis of conscience, loneliness, and harm to their spiritual well-being.”

Church gatherings in Manitoba are restricted to 10 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is less, and everyone is required to wear a mask.

B.C.’s Dr. Henry says province looking to provide vaccines to youth 12 years to 17

British Columbia is considering running COVID-19 immunization clinics in public schools before the end of the school year now that Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those aged 12 to 17 years old.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday the province is looking at plans to immunize young people with their first dose by the end of June, and school-based clinics are a tried-and-tested option.

“We have a lot of experience in public health at supporting immunization in schools,” she said during a news conference. “It’s a very efficient way of doing it.”

But Henry said plans are still in the early stages and clinics in communities are also an option.

“We’ve been ruminating how best to do this for the last week,” she said. “I do expect we’ll be able to get younger people immunized prior to next year’s school season, fully immunized with two doses.”

Henry said an expected increase in vaccine supplies to B.C. means there will be enough doses for youth and adults.

B.C. is expected to receive 1.1 million Pfizer doses this month along with more shipments of the Moderna vaccine.

Henry said earlier this week that the increased vaccines has the province looking at reducing the 16-week interval period between first and second doses.

“The good news is we have a lot of vaccine coming if all goes as planned in the next few months,” she said on Wednesday. “Between May and June we will have quite a lot of vaccine, so we should be able to fit this into our program.”

Henry said there are about 300,000 students in the 12-to-17-year age group.

The province launched a program earlier this week to ramp up efforts to register the millions who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine shot.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said more than two million people have already registered.

More than 1.9 million doses of vaccine have been administered so far, and of those, 93,656 are second shots.

Henry said she understands some people have concerns about vaccine risks, especially for those who are pregnant and youth, but all Health Canada-approved vaccines are safe.

The province made pregnant people a priority for vaccination on Tuesday because of the added health risks if they are infected with COVID-19.

B.C. reported 572 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the first time case counts have been below 600 since March, and there have been no new deaths.

However, the number of people in hospital remains high at 481, with 161 of those people in intensive care.

Travel and other restrictions in the province will remain in place until at least May 25, the day after the Victoria Day long weekend.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says more doses of COVID-19 vaccines are coming soon from Pfizer-BioNTech. He says the federal government will deploy the Canadian Red Cross to help Ontario with their mobile vaccination teams.

The Canadian Press

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