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A Fraser Health registered nurse draws a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on May 17, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Newfoundland and Labrador health authorities say the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India is behind a COVID-19 outbreak spreading through the central part of the province.

Officials reported four new cases in the province today, two of which are connected to the outbreak that now involves 46 confirmed infections.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, says contact tracers are still trying to determine exactly where and how the outbreak began.

During a media briefing, Fitzgerald said some of those infected have had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but she couldn’t say how many.

Since Monday, a 170-kilometre-wide area of the province stretching between the towns of Badger and Gambo has been under heightened public health restrictions as authorities try to contain community spread.

There are now 93 reported active infections across the province, including six people in hospital due to the disease.

Half of Canadians have had one COVID-19 shot

More than half of all people in Canada have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, health authorities reported Wednesday, as Alberta charted an ambitious course to lift most pandemic restrictions by early July.

The Alberta government’s “open for summer” plan is possible because residents have “crushed” a spike in COVID-19 cases and are getting vaccinated, Premier Jason Kenney said.

The province’s three-stage plan is tied to the percentage of residents 12 and older who have received a first shot of vaccine and to hospitalization numbers.

“It’s up to Albertans now,” Kenney said. “You can do your part by getting vaccinated as soon as possible.”

In all, 20 million people in Canada have now had a shot, close to two-thirds of those aged 12 and older. Children under 12 won’t be eligible for several more months.

B.C. ombudsperson urges caution if governments adopt vaccine passports

As British Columbia lays out plans to shed COVID-19 restrictions, the person who ensures fair access to government resources is calling for caution, especially when deciding who is eligible for relaunched services.

A statement from the office of B.C.’s ombudsperson says vaccination certification programs are being explored in B.C. and in jurisdictions across Canada.

Ombudsperson Jay Chalke says this raises concerns about provincial or local public services being limited based on vaccination status.

The organization representing the public advocates across Canada has released guidance about how so-called vaccination passports could affect receipt of services under its members’ jurisdiction such as municipal, health, education and other provincial ministries.

Chalke says fairness must be at the centre of any passport program and the national guidance document created by the Canadian Council of Parliamentary Ombudsman agrees.

It says passports must be open to appeal, alternative services must be available for those who have not been vaccinated and governments must offer clear legislation or policy directions about how vaccine certifications are used.

The mandate of a provincial or territorial ombudsman is to ensure people are treated fairly in the delivery of public services and Chalke says vaccine passports have the potential to “result in outcomes that are unreasonable, unfair and unjust.”

“Although we’re not seeing people having to provide vaccination status yet when receiving public services, we know given the highly dynamic nature of this pandemic that this kind of verification could potentially come into play in a variety of ways,” Chalke said in the statement.

If governments do decide to restrict access to services based on a person’s vaccination status, Chalke said the decision must be transparent, procedurally fair and clearly communicated.

Possible confusion created by vaccine passports will likely result in complaints to his office, he said.

He said he hopes the guidance issued by his colleagues across Canada will prevent unfairness by offering “pro-active reminders” to governments.

Officials ask public to keep social groups small as B.C. reports 250 COVID-19 cases

British Columbia’s health minister and provincial health officer are encouraging residents to limit their socialization with others, as the number of COVID-19 cases dips.

Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry say it is important to socialize with a small group of people, and take more precautions for those who are at a high risk of contracting the virus.

B.C. reported 250 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, for a total of 142,886 since the pandemic began, as well as three new deaths.

Dix and Henry urged residents to get vaccinated, saying the vaccines form the backbone of the province’s reopening plan.

Almost three million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, of which 152,010 are second doses.

Ontario two years behind goal of creating 15,000 new LTC beds by 2024, fiscal watchdog says

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A Medigas worker delivers new oxygen concentrators to the Seven Oaks long term care home, in Scarborough, Ont., on April 1, 2020.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Ontario’s fiscal watchdog says the province will not meet its goal of creating 15,000 new long-term care beds by 2024.

In a report released today, the Financial Accountability Office says Ontario will need more than 30,000 new beds in the sector in 10 years.

The FAO also says the province will need to hire 17,000 personal support workers and more than 12,000 nurses to fulfill a promise to increase the average amount of direct care per resident to four hours per day.

The report says the province is two years behind its goal of creating 15,000 new long-term care beds.

It projects spending on long-term care will increase to $10.6-billion per year by 2030, up from $4.4-billion per year in 2019-20.

The new report is based on the province’s 2021-22 expenditure estimates.

Last November, the government promised to establish a new standard that would see nursing home residents receive an average of four hours of direct care every day.

Premier Doug Ford has pledged to achieve the standard by 2024-25 and said the province will need to hire “tens of thousands” more personal support workers, registered practical nurses and registered nurses to provide the care.

Manitoba expands vaccine eligibility

Manitoba is expanding its eligibility for second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Anyone who received their first dose on or before March 29 can now book an appointment for a second dose.

Until now, second doses have been limited to Indigenous people and people with certain high-risk medical conditions.

Ontario’s top doctor wants to see schools resume in-person learning before province enters first step of reopening plan

Ontario’s top doctor says he’d like to see schools resume in-person learning before the province enters the first step of its reopening plan in mid-June.

Dr. David Williams says most public health units have said they’re in favour of schools reopening soon.

High schools and elementary schools across the province have been shut to in-person learning since mid-April.

Williams says he has heard from many public health agencies, including those in the hard-hit Toronto area, who want to see schools reopen.

Ontario to provide $3-million in financial support to help Canadian Film Centre

Ontario says it’s providing $3-million in financial support to help the Canadian Film Centre through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Culture Minister Lisa MacLeod says the one-time funding is part of the province’s efforts to support the film, television and new media industries through the public health crisis.

The Canadian Film Centre says the money will be used to support training programs and COVID-19 adaptation plans.

Those plans include the development of new initiatives like virtual production training.

Nine outbreaks in Montreal linked to outdoor gatherings at city parks, public health says

Montreal’s public health director is encouraging people not to share glasses, cigarettes and food, after her agency identified nine COVID-19 outbreaks linked to city parks.

While the risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors is low, people still need to be careful, Dr. Mylene Drouin told reporters Wednesday.

“Even though we are outside and the risk is lower, we have to maintain distancing and, of course, do not share glasses, cigarettes or whatever, food, with friends or people that are not in your family,” Drouin said.

Each of the nine park-related outbreaks involve fewer than 10 cases, she added.

The outbreaks linked to parks account for more than half of the 16 active outbreaks connected to “community settings” – places described by the city’s public health agency as being other than workplaces, schools or hospitals. There are 216 total active outbreaks in Montreal.

Nova Scotia’s vaccination rollout is ahead of schedule, health officials say

Health officials say Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout is ahead of schedule and should see second doses made available to the public two to four weeks faster than originally planned.

People who are due for their booster shot soonest – health care workers and those aged 80 and older – will be able to move their appointment up beginning in early June.

Officials say if enough people move up their second dose appointments the province could reach its goal of vaccinating 75 per cent of the population by early September.

Nova Scotia reported 54 new COVID-19 infections yesterday and has 846 active reported cases.

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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